Matters of moment, March 1961

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Capturing Car Sales
To combat the present slump it would be a good idea if design teams did their utmost in future to ensure that cars are truly attractive to their owners. By this we mean that they should possess features from which stem genuine pride of ownership, or fulfil a particular purpose particularly well, instead of being merely instruments of sound, reliable dull transportation.

The enthusiast derives great pleasure from the car of his (or her) choice as well as from motoring. A Citroën 2CV, because it is convenient, unusual and particularly well-adapted to its role in the motoring firmament, can give as much pleasure, over and above its economy and low price, to an enthusiastic owner as can, at the opposite extreme, a Ferrari or Maserati.

It is for this reason that Motor Sport embraces motoring sport in all its forms, convinced that such sport ranges from driving a gran turismo car at 160 m.p.h. to holding hands with a girl in the hindquarters of a limousine. If there is something of a bias towards foreign cars this is probably due to their great character and individuality. Britain sets store in polished mahogany facias and real leather and this is perfectly laudable providing other distinguishing features are added. A costly car should possess items of worth that are as covetable in the garage as on the road — it is this additional appeal that sells cars like Jaguars, Fiat 2100s, Rovers and others, even if they are not as fast, as accelerative, or quite as beautiful, in some eyes, as more expensive Continental and American products. But charm of character isn’t the prerogative of expensive cars.

When the owner of a Citroën 2cv exhibits its astonishingly comfortable ride or lifts out its ingenious seats for a picnic, when fanatics display the fine finish and light controls, etc., of the Volkswagen, or the purchaser of a Fiat Giardiniera delights in packing a vast load into his tiny-engined estate car, they experience as much joy as. the driver of an Austin Healey 3000 or Morgan Plus Four does from the sheer acceleration and speed of his car. It is obvious that completely unconventional mechanicals, coupled to astonishing stability and unexpected interior spaciousness, sell the rubber-sprung, front-drive B.M.C. small cars in quantity. Indeed, one outstanding technical item may play its part in the more abstract pleasure a car imparts to its owner — thus the D.A.F. driver may feel amusement that he has the least-expensive form of automatic transmission, the Ferrari driver enjoys the smooth power from the only remaining production V12 engine, the DS Citroën owner revels in the advanced steps taken to ensure his comfort and security. Whether the same feeling will be aroused by a bent propeller shaft, as on the Pontiac Tempest, remains to be seen.

Another pleasure that motoring can offer is liberal doses of fresh air and this should encourage the development of good open. and convertible bodies. Ford have taken the theme “Have Fun in the Sun” for their recent advertisements, as they are entitled to do with Consul and Zephyr convertibles in their range. They also emphasise our foregoing plea for “excitement” in car design, although many of our readers appear highly amused that the Ford Anglia which has conveyed a water-ski-ing party in current advertisements in The Times and Guardian has on its number plate the letters VW . . .!

Because we believe in the importance of inbuilt character in cars Motor Sport describes interior appointments and “feel” in handling in some detail in its critical road-test reports. Now that cars are difficult to dislodge from the showrooms we want to make the point that to convenience, dependability and performance this other quality should be introduced into future designs, whenever the designer or design-team has the necessary skill and finesse. Exciting cars will always out-sell dull cars and standardisation of controls, instruments and fittings, advocated in certain quarters, could make cars very dull indeed.

The Compulsory Old-Car Tests 
We predicted that putting the onus of testing on garages would lead to trouble and expense for the luckless old-car owner. Two cases have come to our notice. An old Morris Minor, which had been overhauled, was failed because of “slackness in track-rod and drag-rod ball-ends.” So the springs were removed, the joints packed out with nuts and washers and the car re-submitted. It was duly given its Certificate!

The second case concerns a 1930 12/50 Alvis which passed in respect of steering and brakes (after some discussion about a taper-pin on a brake cross shaft which the mechanic apparently had never seen before) but was failed because “the rear lamps are too low.” When the owner produced the Lighting Regulations, proving that no minimum height for rear lamps is specified on cars registered before October 1st, 1954, the garage manager retorted “There’s only one regulation so far as we are concerned.” A phone call to the M.O.T. Testing Station at Hendon proved they didn’t know the regulations either. So the unhappy Alvis owner spent a further 8s. on all the official publications, which proved him right, then went to Hendon and argued the point. Here he received courteous treatment and the testers agreed he was right. His garage, however, still refused to agree, even when confronted with the official documents; they finally issued a Certificate but instead of any apology the owner had to put up with rudeness and hostility. As this Alvis driver remarks  “We can still choose where we buy petrol and oil and maybe some garages need time away from sales and repairs in order to get acquainted with the M.O.T. Regulations.”

The following letter emphasises the trouble car-owners are experiencing at the hands of incompetent testers:

Sir, 
I have just had my 1933 L-type M.G. passed by the M.O.T. approved testing station. You may be interested in the incidents leading up to this “pass.” A couple of months ago I took my car along to a Tester, and the results were: lights OK.; brakes. hand, 79% efficiency; brakes, foot, 72%, efficiency; steering OK. except that wheels rub on arches on full lock. Another point that got adverse criticism was “back wheels inclined to wobble.” Failure!

On getting the car home I fitted stops on the steering (not fitted on any pre-war M.G.) and could find “nothing inclined to wobble on the rear wheels.”

Two months later I took the car to another garage, a big flashy-looking place and bags of apparatus. Before taking the car, I verified by three different means that the braking was 80% efficient hand and foot.

On collecting the car I was told that the car had failed as it had no brakes. On inquiry I found they tested the brakes on rollers, measure the force exerted by the wheel on the rollers, add up the force on each wheel and divide this by the weight of the car, and express this as percentage efficiency. The tester said: “On a new car you should be able to get 400 lb. on each wheel easily, on yours I could not get 400 at all ― no pass.” I inquired as to the figure he did get. He said as he did not get 400 lb. on any wheel he did not bother. The other factor necessary for the calculation he did not know and did not even try to find out before he had failed the car, this being the weight. Eventually I had another mechanic have a go at testing the car; he got a figure for the braking effort but when he looked up the weight chart my year and model was not there, so he took the nearest one to it. This weighs about four hundredweight more than mine. I had the car weighed on a public weighbridge. Eventually they conceded a point and gave a pass certificate: Incidentally. nothing more was heard about back wheels being inclined to wobble!

If all garages are like these two then it is a pity the M.O.T. ever granted testing permits to them.

In the course of my discussion with the second garage, I learned that a new car can stop dead from 30 mph., i.e., infinite C ; also that a to test pass in braking is equal to stopping in 37 feet from 30 m.p.h. My own personal opinion is that the 10-year testing will turn into one of the biggest rackets of all time in the garage business, if it is not already. Why not let Municipal testers (qualified) test the vehicle and then give the Road Fund licence at the same time.

I am, Yours, etc.,
M.F. Jobbins.
North Woolwich. 

If the motorist is to pay, testing stations should understand what they are required by law to test. Incompetent garages should not be allowed to conduct Government-tests. And when a car has been given a clean bill of health surely insurance premiums can no longer be “loaded” just because a vehicle is ancient?