How slow is a light car?

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Modern cars, even little ones, are so relatively fast that to their owners I suppose most vintage light cars must seem extraordinarily pedestrian. My own 1924 12/20 h.p. Calthorpe is not anxious to gallop at much more than about 30 m.p.h., unless downhill, although I think its valve timing may be out, a tooth or two. Even if in contemporary times the small-car fraternity did not cruise along at much over 30 m.p.h., I was glad to have confirmation that other pre-1931 light cars are none too rapid, from an informative table in The Light Car, newsletter of the Light Car Section of the VSCC. 

This table has been compiled from road-tests of members’ cars, undertaken by Alisdaire Lockhart. It shows that while an Amilcar CGSS did 75 m.p.h. flat out, a 1927 Renault 9/15 could manage only 39½ m.p.h., although a 1923 12/24 Lagonda did 45 m.p.h. and a sprightly 1923 10.8 h.p. Riley a surprising 68 m.p.h.

When it came to acceleration, only three out of the ten vintage light-cars and Edwardians tested could get to 50 m.p.h. from rest. Of these, the Amilcar took 24 seconds, the Riley a remarkable 19 seconds, and an Edwardian Lancia Theta took 36 seconds. Only the 1927 Amilcar reached 60 m.p.h., which it did from rest in 34 seconds. Compare, for instance, with a modern Citroën 2CV6 which needs 32.7 seconds, or with a 1980 Fiat 126 which takes 42.1 seconds from 0-60 m.p.h. It would not be fair to crib more of Mr. Lockhart’s informative performance figures for existent vintage light-cars, taken here front today’s Light Car magazine (obtainable by becoming a member of the correct Section of the VSCC) except to say that no one need look too askance at the stopping abilities of such vintage cars, for the Amilcar braked to a standstill from 30 m.p.h. in 22 feet (where a good figure in contemporary times was 30 feet and a 1927 11/22 h.p. Wolseley managed this test in 33 feet, with a 1926 Morris-Cowley taking only a foot more stopping distance. These cars all possess four-wheel anchors, of course. But Lockhart got the rear-braked 1909 Darracq to come to rest in 40 feet. Those who drive the heavy-metal in VSCC events perhaps tend to look condescendingly, although kindly one hopes, at the light-car fraternity. But at least the foregoing figures should provide them with food for thought. — W.B. 

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