Small Car Topics

Author

W.B.

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The Latest Renault Dauphine

Recent experience of the Renault Dauphine in four-speed form with “Aerostable” suspension makes it easy to see why this car is so popular, even in this country where the price is inflated to nearly £700. For a four-seater 845-cc. vehicle the little Renault is not only handsome where many small cars are downright ugly but it provides quiet and therefore fatigue-free travel. Road noise is almost entirely absent, the body, well finished within, does not drum and the rear-placed four-cylinder engine buzzes only when accelerating or when cruising speed goes up to an indicated 65 m.p.h. or more, which can be habitual. The wet-liner 58 x 80 mm. engine develops 31 b.h.p. (S.A.E.) at 4,200 r.p.m. on a compression ratio of 7¾to 1.

The brakes are extremely good, the gear change by tiny central lever with an addiction to nestling beneath the driver’s left leg, very pleasant and rapid although not perfect, for it has much lost movement and waggles about. The four-speed gearbox improves the car, absolute maxima of 40 m.p.h. in second and 60 m.p.h. in third gear being useful, and Renault sensibly offer it for a mere £9 10s. extra, appreciating that some people, lady owners especially, still prefer the three-speed box. The ratios provided be the new gearbox are: 1st, 16.19; 2nd, 9.19; 3rd, 6.39 and top, 4.52 to 1.

The Dauphine has something of a reputation for instability if driven hard, so we paid careful attention to its “Aerostable” suspension. The verdict is that the ride is outstanding amongst small cars, hard enough to kill roll and nose-sagging under braking, even to transmitting mild tremors through the body shell, but giving a pleasant floating action over bad, even atrocious, road surfaces. Renault refer to it as being like “riding on a cloud” and although this might suggest a quick trip to Heaven, we can say that in normal driving the latest Dauphine feels perfectly reasonable, over-steer being by no means pronounced, although very slight steering correction is required to keep it on a straight course, particularly if there is a cross-wind. Whether the improvement is due to the “Aerostable” suspension in which two air dampers at the rear and two rubber dampers at the front supplement the coil all-round independent springing or because use of the Gordini gearbox casing happens to lower the swing axle rear suspension by half-an-inch, the effect is very satisfactory.

The Renault Dauphine has the advantage of four doors without anxiety if small children are carried on the back seat, as special door locks enable both back doors to be unopenable except from outside, by simply sliding up the catches. The doors lock easily, with key for the driver’s, and shut with precision. The seats are notably comfortable. Some or the former shortcomings remain, such as rather low-geared steering (four turns, lock-to-lock, but with a taxi-like turning circle). ignition key set inconveniently close to the steering column (but capable of locking the steering), facia lighting that remains on if the side lamps are in use (not really a nuisance, however), and wheel arches that intrude (not seriously, though) on front compartment leg-room. Renault fit a really efficient heating and demisting system, which soon demists even the rear window — B.M.C. please study — but with somewhat “fumbly” control knobs under the scuttle; the fan is an integral part of the system and should be used habitually. Instrumentation is well done, the lighting system has been revised to provide separate bright side lamps and direction flashers, and the handy stalk controls for the latter, and for lamps/horn-push, remain. Good wipers slightly impede the forward view when parked and the screen pillars could be more slender but generally the driving position is beyond criticism, while luggage space is particularly generous for a rear-engined car. The facia, finished in rough-surfaced plastics, contains two unlidded cubby-holes.

We formed a high opinion of the enjoyable-to-drive, comfortable and restful Renault Dauphine, which sells here for £699 10s. 10d. in four-speed form, p.t. included. Incidentally, a transfer in the back window gives the names of some of the International rallies in which the Dauphine has scored resounding successes. The rear-placed petrol tank (its filler beneath a bonnet that locks) gives a range of at least 240 miles; fuel consumption came out at 41 m.p.g., and after 500 miles no oil had been consumed. Road-test reports on the Renault Dauphine were published in Motor Sport for May 1956 and April 1959 and impressions of the Gordini version in the issue of September 1959. — W. B.

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A Fantastic Scheme

We have received from a Coventry motor body engineer a fantastic scheme for selling their proposed new car, the 600-c.c. Hermes. This concern has suggested to the Government that all cars over ten years old should be banned from our roads, that all cars over five years old should be tested under the M.O.T. scheme with additional tests of “bodywork and overall conditions,” so that the roads would be cleared of some 3,000,000 cars at present in use.

“Mr. Hermes” — we cannot read the duplicated “signature” on the documents sent to us — thinks this would leave 1,500,000 people who would have to replace their old cars either with a secondhand M.O.T.-tested vehicle or a new Hermes! Even if half-a-million folk are foolish enough to go for used cars, “Mr. Hermes” sees a million buyers wanting one of his new cars. This will clear congestion in towns, he tells us, because seven Hermes could park in the space occupied by six “old, sluggish, unmanoeuvrable cars.”

Then these nasty old cars, we are told, are unreliable and wasteful, whereas in the Hermes “economy and troublefree life are main points of design.”

Finally, “Mr. Hermes” offers to rejuvenate the Motor Industry but producing 250,000 of his little cars in the first year. supplemented by another 750,000 assembled and trimmed in the first twelve months by B.M.C., Rootes, Ford, etc. (our italics!), In this way “Mr. Hermes” offers the British Motor Industry a million cars to be made in one year with “a sure selling market which would be an opportunity for the whole Industry to catch its breath.” We can just see Sir Lionel Leonard, Lord Rootes and the bosses of American Ford queuing up for their Hermes drawings! The only saving grace is that would-be owners are not to be asked to pay in advance, as Hitler did with Volkswagens. But the plot is for the Government to sponsor Hermes, which would encourage them to scrap all old cars! The estimated cost is £25,000,000 and the selling price £300, a profit of £150 per Hermes. An allowance of £50 would be made for scrapping one’s old car — and presumably used-car trade out-of-works would man the assembly lines? Some sums purport to show that in the first year the Government would make £50,000,000, after half this sum had been set aside for development and the other half given to the British Motor Industry for its help!

The final plum is expressed as follows: “After twelve months and one million cars produced British roads would be faster safer places, British Motor Industry would have had a much needed breather with full employment and prosperity, and the Hermes would be established with economy, manoeuvrability, space and speed: it could sell both at home and abroad and compete on any terms with any similarly classed model from any country.”

What sort of car is envisaged? The specification calls for a four-cvlinder 63 x 48 mm. (600 c.c.) overhead-camshaft horizontally-opposed engine (location not stated) giving 25 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m. on an 8 to 1 compression-ratio, in a 7-foot wheelbase shell sprung on MacPherson-type i.f.s. and swing-axle rear suspension, running on 5.20-in. x 10-in. tyres and having 5-in. disc front and 7-in, drum rear brakes. The Hermes idea has, we are told, been encouraged by the “undoubtedly high standard of finish and reliability of the VW” which “has proved that reliability and finish more than any other quality, will sell more cars over a longer period. It is estimated that three men could produce a full-size Hermes body in three months and a prototype car, possibly with a proprietary engine, in four to six months. Copies of the scheme have been sent, we are informed, to the Rt. Hon. Selwyn Lloyd, M.P., the Rt. Hon. E. Marples, M.P., and the Rt. Hon. H. Gaitskell, M.P. Their collective reaction, if any, should be interesting. — W. B.

Coopers Close Racing Drivers’ Training Division

After considerable discussion, the Directors of the Cooper Car Company have decided that due to their exceptionally heavy development programme, and their commitments in International and Intercontinental racing, it will no longer prove possible to give the attention which the Racing Drivers’ Training Division merits. With great regret The Cooper Car Company Limited have to announce the closure of the Racing Drivers’ Training Division. Various negotiations are at present taking place with other organisations and it is more than possible that one of these will continue the Training Division.

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