The Magic Century!

Author

W.B.

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60

The Editor Ponders on How 100 m.p.h., once the Prerogative of the Racing Car, is now Achieved by many Production Models

An outstanding aspect of the last London Motor Show was the high proportion of new cars for which the claim was made that they were capable of a maximum speed exceeding 100 m.p.h.

From this we can assume that no car worthy of the term sports car, unless of modest, cubic capacity or intended purely for rally-tests or mud-plugging, can afford not to achieve the “magic century,” and that it will not be long before any car classed as a “high-performance” vehicle will be expected to exceed “the ton” under favourable conditions.

Having arrived at this conclusion, it behoves us to look around to see how many production cars will, in fact, do a genuine 100 m.p.h.

The “magic century,” “ton,” “three-figure maximum.” call it what you will, has exerted a marked fascination ever since the day, in 1904, when a motor car first accomplished this speed. In an age when there is less excuse for taking an interest in maximum speed — good handling qualities, vivid acceleration and powerful trick-free braking being more valuable everyday qualities — we nevertheless find new emphasis amongst manufacturers themselves on high speed. Although a 100-m.p.h. maximum does not, in itself, spell high cross-country average speeds — if you doubt this, consider yourself in a tuned and stripped, but back-braked, 30/98 Vauxhall trying to beat a DB2-4 Aston Martin, from, say, London to Birmingham — a very high maximum generally spells good output from the engine, which in consequence should provide the desirable vivid acceleration if not killed by high gear ratios, while, generally, a car able to exceed 100 m.p.h. will be having a commendably easy time at the far lower cruising speeds at which it is likely to be driven most of the time in this country.

Having made out a case for wanting a car that will exceed 100 m.p.h., let us consider which cars are capable of doing so.

In Motor Sport, last January, I wrote up the cars which in my opinion come within the Gran Turismo category. Every one of the ten makes set down, i.e., Alfa-Romeo 1900C, Aston Martin DB2-4, Bristol 404, Ferrari, Fiat 8V, Fraser-Nash, Jensen 541, Lancia Aurelia, Pegaso and Porsche Super, will not only exceed “the ton” but in most cases may he expected to attain a velocity of around 110 m.p.h.

To these ten illustrious motor cars we can add those cars which, in a survey of two-seater British sports cars published in Motor Sport for July, 1953, I decided would exceed the century. They are the Allard J2X, Fraser-Nash Competition model, the Austin-Healey 100, the Jaguar XK120, and the Triumph TR2.

Pausing for a moment, it must be obvious that certain variants of these cars also call for inclusion, as, for example, the Mille Miglia and Targa Florio Turismo Frazer-Nashes and the Jaguar XK120 coupé, while the Bristol 403 with little encouragement reaches “the ton,” under favourable circumstances.

We now have no fewer than nineteen cars in the 100-plus category, of which eighteen are in current production.

Any others? Yes, most certainly there are. About most of the new models at Earls Court we can only surmise, because test figures are not yet available concerning them. But the Jowett Jupiter R4 might, I think, qualify, and the A.C. Ace will possibly do so when it comes out with a rather higher compression ratio and less wind-drag than the model shown at Earls Court possessed.

I should not expect the TF M.G. Midget, even though it has the Series II engine and reduced frontal area, to quite reach 100 m.p.h., at all events on a two-way timed run, nor do I expect the Sunbeam Alpine roadster to come quite up to the century in standard form, although I would not like to stake any money on this.

At Earls Court 100 m.p.h. was claimed for the Riley Pathfinder saloon, although only under “ideal conditions,” which, you may remember, we illustrated audaciously in our discourse on Gran Turismo motor cars. All versions of the Frazer-Nash qualify, the 4 1/2-litre Crewe-Bentley Mk. VI saloon just gets in, and the Continental Bentley saloon does so by an effortless 16 m.p.h. I know too little about the Borgward sports 1,800 and the Type 501 B.M.W. to be dogmatic but I think they might well come in, and I note that Daimler claim 100 m.p.h. for their new Conquest Roadster. Time alone will prove whether such claims are justified and will lend interest to perusal of future road-test reports.

It is a big mistake to blow too loudly on the trumpet and nothing can mar the reputation of a car more soundly than claims made prior to its appearance which in practice it doesn’t fulfil, witness the B.R.M., the V-twin Cooper 1,100s, which were heralded as lightweight racers likely to dominate Formula II but which were air-cooled and hadn’t the staying power, and the Zephyr-engined Allard Palm Beach, of which publicity hand-outs claimed an easy 100 m.p.h., whereas the two-way maximum has so far proved to be under 85 m.p.h.

The modern Rolls-Royce doesn’t come near to the maximum speed we are considering, the new 3-litre Lagonda will possibly make it, but the Humber Super Snipe falls short by nearly ten miles per hour. the Jensen Interceptor by only a few miles per hour — no blame attaches, for none of these luxury carriages is intended to be exceptionally fast, nor have they been proclaimed as being so.

There are large saloons which exceed the century, and very creditable this is. I refer to the Mk. VII Jaguar, Mercédès-Benz 300, Alvis TC21-100 and two-carburetter Armstrong-Siddeley Sapphire. I should not expect the increased engine size of the Rover 90 to give it more than about 90 m.p.h. but may have to eat these words.

American cars should obviously not be ignored and my only reason for not including them is a complete lack of experience of this class of vehicle. Let us not overlook the fact that in the last two years British road-test reports have credited the 5.4-litre Chrysler Imperial and New Yorker saloons with being capable of comfortably exceeding “the ton.”

Are there any other claimants? I am concerned only with production models, so “hotted-up” versions of Sunbeam-Talbot, Baby Renault, flat-twin Dyna-Panhard, “souped”-Zephyrs and the like can be overlooked, while to simplify the issue I have left out cars no longer current, such as the Riley-engined and Alvis-engined Healeys, Allard J2 and K2, and Jaguar XK120C.

The H.R.G. has not been much more than an 80-m.p.h. car of recent years but was good for nearer 90 in its earlier Meadows-engined form, and it is conceivable that the twin overhead camshaft Singer engine will endow this very real sports car with a more respectable maximum speed. The American Cunningham must surely exceed 100 m.p.h. very easily. That, I feel, concludes this brief study of which cars really do exceed the much-talked-of “century.” Unless my arithmetic is at fault-this adds up to 18 different makes and a total of over 40 different models, all present-day production, known to definitely (or obviously) exceed 100 m.p.h. It does not include many American Saloons obviously able to do so.

From this it might be thought that the “century” is common-place and has lost much of its former magic. This, however, is wishful thinking, on account of a number of factors which need to be taken into consideration. In the first place, the cars which are listed as 100-m.p.h. machines have been tested under conditions where there is a decently long run into the measured section. Even under these conditions, the Alvis TC21-100 saloon and Mk. VI Bentley saloon only just managed the “century” as a two-way mean speed, the two-carburetter Armstrong-Siddeley Sapphire had only 0.1 m.p.h. in hand, and the Jaguar Mk. VII, Mercédès-Benz 300, later Mk. VI and B7 Bentleys and Chrysler Imperial saloon cleared “the ton” by less than two miles per hour.

This means that only those cars timed to exceed 110 m.p.h. would be likely to top the “century” on ordinary roads and that reduces our list by half. Judging by the low cruising speeds of British drivers, even when at the wheels of sports cars, not even these exclusively-fast vehicles will be driven at anywhere near their maximum in ordinary use.

So 100 m.p.h. remains a speed outside the realm of all but a small band of experienced drivers. What is remarkable is the fact that this speed is achieved by two very inexpensive British sports models. I refer to the £595 Triumph TR2 and the £750 Austin-Healey 100, and to these can be added the new Swallow Doretti and possibly the £545 Jowet t Jupiter R4 and £915 A.C. Ace. The Triumph TR2 has a maximum two-way speed of 103 1/2 m.p.h., the Austin-Healey 100 has been timed at a two-way 103 m.p.h. in one instance and a two-way 106 m.p.h. in another. The example tested was a Le Mans car but the production version should be capable of within a few miles per hour of the mean of these two figures.

Such a high maximum from cars so modestly priced is a fine British achievement and it is especially significant that in both instances straight-forward push-rod overhead valve engines are used which serve, in basically identical form, in saloons made by these manufacturers — respectively the 2,088-c.c. four-cylinder Standard Vanguard and 2,660-c.c. four-cylinder Austin A90 power units. — W. B.

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