The Alexander Engineering Co. Ltd. of Haddenham, that picturesque Buckinghamshire village not far from the old-world town of Thame, specialises in making slow cars faster and good cars better.
One notable aspect of their work is that they provide tuning kits for makes other than the inevitable B.M.C. and Ford products, although they cater for owners of these cars also. One of their latest kits is a two-Carburetter conversion for the new Hillman Super Minx and Singer Vogue, which adds up to a Super Super, as it were.
The conversion embraces a completely reshaped and highly polished cylinder head, the ports of which are modified and airflowed, and twin 1 1/2 in. semi-downdraught S.U. carburetters on a special air-flowed manifold, replacing the single Zenith carburetter of the normal Super Minx or Vogue. The compression-ratio is raised from 8.3 to 8.97 to 1, but 100-octane petrol is not required. The exhaust system is unchanged, apart from a funnel on the tailpipe.
We were able recently to cover an appreciable mileage in an Alexander Super Minx so converted, and found it to be fool-proof as well as quicker-than-standard. The test was additionally interesting because the car had an Alexander Laycock over-drive, Lockheed power brakes, and adjustable Variflo shock-absorbers.
Dealing first with the increased performance, figures were taken, using a fifth-wheel electric speedometer, for acceleration, the following results being obtained as the average of several two-way runs, two-up. For comparison, figures for a standard Hillman Super Minx tested with the same watch and speedometer are appended :—
As to maximum speed, the Alexander Super Minx achieved 28, 44 and 70 m.p.h. in the lower gears, virtually the same as for the untuned car. The absolute Speed in o/d top gear was 87 m.p.h. but Mr. Christie of Alexander Engineering tells us that the o/d is a step-up of 25% to give a really high Motorway cruising ratio, which renders the car faster in normal top gear, when, he says, it will very comfortably exceed 90 m.p.h.
The engine showed no sign of having been modified, being docile, a quick starter, and entirely trouble-free. The clutch, however, slipped slightly under maximum acceleration. This could be cured by backing off momentarily but affected the acceleration figures.
On the first day of the London Underground strike we drove the car from the City across the West End at the height of the chaos, averaging perhaps 2 m.p.h. for a journey taking 2 1/2 hours. Had the "souped" engine of the Super Minx had any dislike of heavy traffic this sort of treatment must have exposed it, but no plug-oiling, overheating or other snags developed.
A fuel consumption check, after performance testing, gave 24.5 m.p.g. Without running the tank dry the range was 216 miles.
The Lockheed Power brakes were a valuable complement to the increased performance, providing good retardation under light pedal pressure; one downhill application from 85 m.p.h. gave rise to a trace of fade, which a change of linings in the 9-in. drum brakes would probably eliminate. The Alexander Laycock overdrive operates in 3rd and top, controlled by a convenient r.h. flick-stalk, and puts the new Hillman in the same category as the Sunbeam Rapier, for which Rootes themselves supply an overdrive.
Road-holding was good but the ride was inclined to be lively; the Varillow dampers had not been long in use, and were at a comparatively mild setting. It is nice to be able to adjust the degree of damping if you are sufficiently enthusiastic to crawl under the car or put it on a hoist. The cost of these conversions is as follows :
Engine kit, £57 10s. and exchange of displaced cylinder head, carburetter and ancillary parts.
Power brake conversion, £13.
Overdrive kit, £71 18s. 6d.
Variflow shock-absorbers, 55s. each.
Fitting is extra but if desired Alexander can supply a Super Minx ready converted, in which case, as tested, the price is £1,007 5s. 9d. It is interesting that these modifications do not invalidate the guarantee and these Alexander converted cars can be obtained through Rootes dealers anywhere in the World.
What of the Super Minx itself? This is not the place for full road-test impressions but it can be set down as a roomy, well-appointed car rather in the vintage tradition. The steering is soggy and not exactly light, there is much power roar when accelerating and the central floor gear lever is man-sized but precise. The pedals are off-set to such an extent to clear the wide transmission cover that the driver seems in danger of developing permanently bent legs. The heater was a sadly insipid affair, unable to de-mist screen and windows unless the blower was switched on, when it runs with a noise like surf breaking on Chesil Beach, and Rootes provide an under-facia shelf but no cubby-hole or door pockets. Light switches are on the facia with no provision for flashing, the fuel filler refused to shut until its washer was removed and during our test the "overdrive" motif fell in halves and a wiper blade became detached. Incidentally, much praise has been bestowed on the Rootes Group for calibrating their instruments in metric as well as English readings: it is nice, also, to find the sump contents marked on the very accessible dip-stick.
TOYS AT BRIGHTON
It seems a splendid inspiration on the part of the toy manufacturers to hold their annual British Toy Fair in Brighton, with enthralling exhibits displayed in various hotels and other buildings in the famous Sussex seaside resort.
One of the best of these exhibits was that of Playcraft Toys Ltd., in the Ambassadors Room of the Metropole Hotel. This is not the place in which to describe non-motoring toys but remembering the thrill of childhood, what Christmas presents (and the Toy Fair is intended to stimulate Christmas 1962 trade) a working Hoover washing machine in miniature, a real working model Petite typewriter, a tiny kitchen sink unit with real running water, a City Heliport with helicopter which flies off the roof, reached by a working lift, or a huge Model of the "Emergency Ward 10" hospital would make! All Playcraft offerings to thrice lucky children . . .
We were captivated by Playcraft's 00-gauge "Highways" railways, with a London-Paris car-sleeper train on a fine track and a local goods train drawn by a tank loco on another layout in which sports cars halted at open level-crossings (if the operator were alert!) to let it go by. Playcraft had new "Corgi" car miniatures specially for the Fair, such as a delightful Jaguar E-type with detachable hard-top, a long wheelbase Land Rover and, of course, the beautiful Mercedes-Benz 220SE coupe with a boot-lid that lifts up to reveal a removable spare wheel! And the little Ford Thames Airborne caravan with real foam rubber for its bunk cushions . . . What will the leading manufacturers of car miniatures think up next ?—"Corgi" claim to have pioneered jewelled headlamps, bonnet lifting to reveal a detailed engine, windows, venetian sun-blinds, the opening boot, ruby rear lights, self-adhesive accessories, self-centring castor steering and "Glidamatic" suspension on the well-known precision die-cast miniature motor cars which are manufactured like real ears in the Swansea factory. Incidentally, TV's "Candid Camera" claims to ''have us all covered" and the same seems true of Playcraft, for the tiny figures of mechanics, drivers, officials and Pressmen for use with their Silverstone circuit kit-buildings are definitely recognisable as familiar personalities! The latest of these buildings is a very fine one of the Silverstone B.R.D.C. time-keepers' and lap-scorers' box, while we were pleased to see Motor Sport advertised on their scale model of the pits!
Model electric racing circuits are all the rage. A new one at the Toy Fair was the Airfix 1/32-scale race track, said to undercut all others in price, the cars being Cooper and Ferrari and the scale applicable to all "Airfix" kit-ears, of which 2s. kits for assembling Dauphine. Rapier and Sprite and seven old-car kits from 1911 Rolls-Royce to bull-nose Morris were on show. On another stand a precision-built model i.c. engine with a barrel-throttle carburetter and slow running and mixture adjuster screws, so that it throttles down to around 1,400 r.p.m. instead of screaming its head off at 14,000, was of interest to model-car folk. V.I.P. had their very substantial 1/32-scale track and Playcraft their "Highways" roadway system.
A real Lotus was outside the Metropole, beside the 1904 Brushmobile which the Editor of Motor Sport drove in the last Brighton Run, its owner, Lord Montagu, being present at the invitation of Revell, noted for their veteran car and ancient aeroplane plastic kits. Alas, Charbens referred to their kits as of "old crock cars". . .
Lesney were, of course, represented with new 1905 Spyker car and 1914 v-twin Sunbeam motorcycle combination in their "Models of Yesteryear" series, in this welter of models most fascinating. Oh, to be a boy again . . . .
Writing of Brighton's Metropole Hotel, it is pleasing to find that in a town where Regency buildings abound, this hotel is being modernised to bring it into line with the newest hotels in cities such as Coventry, Burnley, etc. Pleasing, that is, to those who think that Britain should go all-out for tourist trade. Continental visitors should feel at home in the modernised Metropole and lunching or dining in the roof-top starlit room overlooking nothing but the sea (and claimed to be the only hotel roof-top restaurant in Britain) is an inviting experience—even if, when you order something as simple as fruit salad to round off an excellent lunch, they have to make it specially and when it arrives it is a disappointingly plain salad.
It is likely that private beaches will become as much a part of Brighton as they are on the Med. if the big hotel owners have their way—but what they can do about the shingle and the climate constitutes the big question-mark. Adjacent to the Metropole rise a new block of fiats, wherein business executives will be able to entertain their clients and the rich idle away their days. strolling into the hotel when a little more expansion-room seems desirable. Rents? Rumour murmurs around £8o a week!