Why this Praise for the Bread-and-Butter Continentals?

— asks a Satisfied Owner of Three Standard Eights

During the past few years Motor Sport has published readers’ experiences of most of the Continental utility cars that appeal to British enthusiasts unable to run genuine high-performance cars. The F.I.A.T. “500” and “1,100,” D.K.W., F.W.D. Citroen, Opel “Cadet,” Peugeot 202, Adler, Volkswagen, etc., have duly been dealt with. This has caused A. E. Frost to take up the cudgels on behalf of the British bread-and-butter car, based on his experience of 1939, 1946 and 1948 Standard Eight saloons over an aggregate mileage of nearly 90,000. Regular readers need have no fear that Motor Sport’s policy is changing, but the author states a good case and makes some interesting observations, and, therefore, contrary to our usual practice, we are giving space to a perfectly normal, mass-produced British utility vehicle. Whether or not Mr. Frost has successfully stated his case will be proved, surely, by the amusement or irritation with which owners of the aforementioned German, Italian and French cars read his article. — Ed.

To the British enthusiast the charm of the Continental car would appear to lie in direct ratio to the numbers imported into this country. The scarcer the model, the greater the interest.

It is fair to say that due to scarcity of spares and unfamiliar servicing, inevitably the Continental becomes “Enthusiast”-owned — whereupon it often assumes the role of a “sporting” vehicle. It should be borne in mind, however, that these same continental cars are offered to the same class of buyer as are the British family or baby cars. I suggest that when a similar performance is offered from cars of British origin, it is often rejected.

What little experience I was fortunate to have during the war with such impressed cars as Hansa, Borgward-Hansa, Adler, Hanomag, Kdf., etc., led me to believe that the continental car differed from its British counterpart in three main ways — independent suspension, high-geared squarish engine and cabriolet-type coachwork. In the main the performance was rather harsh and roughly delivered.

The Standard Eight by virtue of its springing, the bodywork available, and its gear ratios is in keeping with the continental idea, and, whilst comparisons are necessarily odious, suffice it to say that for vehicles of the same class and capacity, authentic substantiated performance figures reveal this car to be a livelier performer than most.

In itself, it has neither distinguished itself in trials, nor can it fairly lay claim to be a sports car. Nevertheless, its performance justifies it as the equal of many of the continentals over which you enthuse.

Experience over an aggregate of 90,000 miles with three different cars has bred familiarity with virtue and vice. The Standard Eight was the first British quantity-produced Eight to offer i.f.s. and drop-head coachwork. The 1939 tourer had reasonable lines and similar seating to the coupé. The saloon, with which my experience lies, was “just another tiddler,” but with a difference.

The chassis is conventional, with long semi-elliptic springs underslung at the rear. The front-end has single wishbones of generous dimensions, Luvax damped. No scuttle “float” is evident on the open types, so the chassis can be said to be reasonably rigid.

The weight of 15 1/4 cwt., coupled with a 31-b.h.p. engine, gives acceleration comparable to that usually found in “Tens” and “Twelves” and in normal conditions the speed over 60 m.p.h.

The engine, a simple three-bearing, side-valve unit with aluminium head and a 6.7 to 1 compression ratio, gives off its 31 b.h.p. at 4,000 r.p.m. It is a taxation-cheater, of 57 by 100 m.m., giving a capacity of 1,021 c.c. with an R.A.C. rating of 8. The post-1915 cars were of 1,010 c.c., losing 3 b.h.p.; this is somewhat offset by the four-speed gearbox.

The rather long stroke offsets itself by the use of a 5.14 to 1 final drive, which whilst seeming on paper to be low, is at all events almost identical to that used by the “TC” M.G. Midget.

The engine runs sweetly and with commendable silence up to its limit. There is no rough spot in its range. The gearbox, giving ratios of 5.14, 8.63 and 18.75 to 1, provides maxima of over 60, 45 and 15 m.p.h., respectively. The change is simple enough and quite rapid, but the deafest man could hardly call bottom gear quiet, and after 20,000 miles the wear and tear caused second gear to jump out under load, an annoying habit which the usual “cures” checked only for a few weeks.

It is only fair to say that post-war models have a delightfully quiet four-speed box, with a third speed (7.75 to 1), which gives about 50 m.p.h. The change is more rapid and the lever is within inches of the steering wheel.

The steering is Burman Douglas and is light and accurate; the turning circle of 34 feet is in line with that of the continentals.

As there is so little evidence of kick even over potholes, it may be on this account that the steering has been described as feeling “dead,” a criticism often levelled at cars with i.f.s. There is not overmuch castor action, but this has seemingly increased on post-war models.

The brakes are Bendix, 8-in. front, 6-in, with wider linings at the rear. Faulty operation can usually be traced to failure to lubricate the cables. The leading shoes wear appreciably faster than the secondaries, and I halved my re-lining costs (at 36,000 miles) by replacing the linings on the leading shoes only, an apparently effective strategy, although no doubt frowned on by the makers. The brakes worked as well as ever, afterwards. There is some fade in recent models, but this may be due to inferior linings.

Experience with i.f.s. prior to owning the first Standard led me to speculate unfavourably on the probable rate of tyre-wear. However, the track was set parallel when new and altered to toe-in at 20,000 miles. It was then checked every 5,000 miles. This attention was rewarded by sending the first two tyres for retread after 35,000 miles. The others were sent after 42,000 miles and were retreaded by Dunlop. One had to be discarded with a faulty casing. The first two were later replaced with oversize covers, which is not a wise move as the treads foul the underside of the body when cornering fully-laden. I do not consider these figures unusual, for my 1946 saloon showed appreciable synthetic tread after 21,000 miles and my 1948 saloon shows a comparable lack of wear after 11,000 miles.

Wear on the i.f.s. bushes and pins seems neither to affect handling nor rate of tyre wear. Ultimately the tyres rub the mudguards on full lock and the bushes “clonk.” It does not require a skilled mechanic to replace the bushes, a job which will not be required until after the 40,000 mile mark — or about every 85 years if you rely on “basic”!

The steel body, which helps stiffen the chassis, remains rattle-free; having but two doors, a general source of rattle is immediately divided by two.

The saloon has a useful bottom-hinged luggage boot, which will take really bulky articles without having to remove them to get at the spare wheel and the wheel-changing tackle.

The popularity of the roof-rack on the continent is surely an admission of poor locker arrangements.

As is usual with modern practice one sits in, rather than on, the car and the high bonnet line adds to this impression. Neither mudguard is visible to a person of medium stature.

The instruments are mounted high up, and easily read. They do include an oil gauge and ammeter.

The performance and handling qualities are above average. It is literally possible to steer with “one finger” at full speed. Over-exuberance on corners causes some rolling, but the tail is not easy to slide, although when it does, it goes quickly. However, slides are easily corrected. The car is sensitive to tyre-pressure and lack of air causes an appreciable increase in roll and some instability when braking hard at speed.

The performance is sweetly and smoothly delivered and the cruising speed is anything up to a speedometer 50/55, at which speed it is quite happy for long periods.

A contemporary gave acceleration figures of 0-50 in 22 seconds and 0-30 in 8, which figures speak for themselves.

The petrol consumption is quite remarkable and I have found it possible to record a minimum of 35 m.p.g. under the most arduous conditions. Careful use of the throttle pedal raises this to about 45, not exceeding 45 m.p.h. Over 56,000 miles the average was 42 m.p.g.

The sump holds 7 1/2 pints of oil and has a man-sized filler. When wear does ultimately take place, the loss of two pints does not result in a 50 per cent. loss as with some contemporaries, although it is, of course, twice as expensive to drain and re-fill! The engine is long lived and this is assisted by the use of a hard insert at the top of the bore. I am not sure whether this is still used. My -1939 saloon was not rebored when sold at 56,000 miles, and the oil consumption was then down to about 600 m.p.g. The ride is remarkably level and virtually pitch-free, especially when one considers that the wheelbase (6 ft. 11 in.) is only 5 in. longer than that of the F.I.A.T. “500.” It is the more meritorious in that four passengers can be carried quite comfortably. It is also capable of absorbing the rough stuff, too.

In conclusion, the Standard Eight may be fairly ascribed as giving a better ride and a performance in excess of the great majority of its class,

Naturally the longevity of any car depends upon the maintenance it receives and the three Standard Eights upon which these remarks are based have always had decent maintenance. They have lived for the most part in the open and have always been driven fast — but not necessarily hard. They have never seen the inside of a garage except for the fitting of new piston rings and for the aforementioned gearbox trouble. I have never had an involuntary stop. Yet the car is British . . .