The Position of the Specialist Car

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A well-known picture paper recently drew attention to the fact that in the fields outside Coventry 1949 cars are standing idle, because export sales have fallen short of expectations. It illustrated its article with a picture of a considerable number of Standard “Vanguards” standing in the open exposed to the elements. Certainly Standards recently released nearly 2,000 work-people and it is said that the slump is being experienced by other Coventry mass-production plants which undertake the production of motor-cars for the masses. This is a most unfortunate and serious state of affairs, to which the President of the Board of Trade and the Chancellor of the Exchequer should give undivided attention. We must hope and pray for an improvement in the near future, for this approaching crisis will affect everyone, whether or not they have ever driven or ridden in a motor-car.

It is true that more new cars may be released for the home market — although recent Government pronouncements suggest otherwise — and that if this comes about, second-hand prices will continue to fall sharply, so that elderly sports cars and the lesser vintage vehicles will be within the reach of the more impecunious enthusiasts. As an aside, it may be remarked that a reduction in the prices of certain classes of used cars would be opportune, for, although such prices are lower than they were, they are still absurdly high. We are still asked too frequently to pay higher-than-new prices for cars that have seen some twenty years’ hard service and which, in 1989, were valued at half present prices. The British pound may have lost much of its value during the last ten years, but, remember, pre-war cars have, in the meantime, either deteriorated in storage or seen a further decade of hard usage!

To return to the main purpose of this article, the reason why fields around Coventry are well-filled with utility-type cars is not readily apparent and may be associated with a number of factors.

Until now we have not been afforded an opportunity to carry out one of Motor Sport’s detailed and searching road-tests of a Vanguard, and so we cannot fairly comment on this car or take heed of the letters, both of praise and condemnation, that we receive from those who have sampled it. Certainly varied reports reach us of this much discussed newcomer and one eminent writer has seen fit to say of it that it was the fastest car from point to point across the Continent which it had been his good fortune to drive! We hasten to assure those readers who urge us to test a Vanguard that at last we have been promised a Press-car so that a test-report should appear in an early issue.

We have, of course, always realised that to compete with the highly-organised American industry of mass-produced automobiles would be no easy task. Whether our ambitious and generally excellent utilitarian cars will make the grade is a very topical and troublesome problem and, if they do not, British technicians will not be to blame. But what is certain is that the world’s markets are wide open to the individualistic cars produced by the smaller British manufacturers.

At one time the Government debated whether such manufacturers should be allowed to continue production, or whether they should be squeezed out of steel, and therefore existence, in favour of the six big producers. Fortunately, this crippling of our trade in specialist cars never came about and they survive to bring us worthwhile dollars, even if their combined sales never approach that of the 200,000 or more cars exported last year by the bigger mass-production factories.

Such firms as Allard, Aston-Martin, Bentley, Bristol, Daimler, Frazer-Nash, H.R.G., Jaguar, Jowett, Lagonda, Lea-Francis, Rolls-Royce, M.G., and others of this kind can look forward to sustained export sales, no matter what is the reaction of overseas markets to our more ordinary cars. The convenience of the Allard, allied to its vivid acceleration and ample servicing facilities, scarcely requires emphasis. The impeccable everyday year-in and year-out high performance of the Mk. VI Bentley renders it the ideal of many business executives and heads of industry who find rapid, effortless transport essential. The Mk. V Jaguar offers similar qualities in considerably more economic form. The dignity of the Rolls-Royce is respected all over the globe and the Daimler offers this quality, together with unexpectedly “sports-car” handling qualities and the undeniable attraction of the clever fluid-cum-preselector transmission. The Jowett Javelin offers compactness with good performance and modernity.

The market for British sports-cars is every bit as virile as that for those cars just named, and it is satisfactory that we still have four really fast examples of the genuinely-exciting open high-performance car. They are the “Spa Replica” Aston-Martin, the “High Speed” Frazer-Nash, the Healey and the 2 and 3 1/2-litre “XK” Jaguars. Each of these cars should be capable of exceeding 100 m.p.h. in road-trim, thereby justifying the term “exciting,” yet the changed aspect of design during the past two decades is nicely portrayed by the fact that these appear to be eminently practical vehicles, capable of being driven effectively by anyone with more than a nodding acquaintance with the control of fast-moving objects and of being serviced satisfactorily by mechanics capable of such work on any of the better-class cars. Indeed, all save the Jaguar open their valves per push-rod and Jaguar’s twin overhead camshaft engine is so buried within the cars beautifully-proportioned wind-defeating bodywork as to suggest that its plugs will not require constant attention, that oil will not be flung on to hot surfaces and that the noise is not such that the manufacturers’ one desire is to let it escape at all costs.

There are those who feel sad at the passing of the old-style, tricky, temperamental sports-cars which, by demanding constant attention to such things as rev.-limits and plug grades, tappet-settings and double-declutching, so effectively sifted the leather-coated enthusiast from the merely sporting-owner-driver. Such motor-cars, like conscription, may be regarded as beneficial to young manhood. Time marches on, however, and the American-style engine, large or small, in a softly-sprung, lightweight chassis, has proved as fast, or faster, from A to that distant place we call B than the owner-proud sports car that openly proclaims its power and performance to every passer-by. Designers discovered how to push down pistons with race-bred-style horses rather than with cart-horses and the old order changed with this discovery. However, the old-style of sports car is still a cult followed by some and is still encountered in present-day competition events, while the four modern sports-cars named seem as exciting to the rising generation as any vintage car does to the vintage-minded.

The Aston-Martin proved itself at Spa last year and has recently been adequately dealt with in Motor Sport. The first production model reached the hands of a private owner a few weeks ago. The Frazer-Nash proved, on brief acquaintance, to have performance of the “steel hand in velvet glove” order, allied to steering and coachwork reminiscent of the pre-war B.M.W. One of the “Competition” models has been sold to two Czech enthusiasts and the Shahinshah of Iran has one of the aerodynamically-bodied versions. One looks forward to seeing how this car shapes in racing and other events, following its debut in the Targa Florio.

As for the Healey, the manufacturers have assured us that they wish to submit a car for thorough testing and that they intend to let us drive one of the actual Mille Miglia cars immediately it returns to England after the race. This is an experience to which we look forward with keen anticipation.

The new “XK” Jaguar which took Earls Court by storm seems to be captivating America, nor can one express surprise, after appreciating the excellence of its entirely new twin-cam engine (which in 2-litre form propelled Major Gardner’s record-car so effectively at 177 m.p.h.) and admiring the car’s really beautiful lines. Whether it will exceed 120 m.p.h. on the road as Charles Fothergill, Motoring Correspondent of the News Chronicle has predicted, remains to be seen but certainly this Jaguar need not fear competition and one awaits further data concerning it with the keenest anticipation.

The basic price of these four cars comes out at £1,998 for the “Spa Replica” Aston-Martin, £1,975 for the “High Speed” Competition-model Frazer-Nash, £1,500 for the Healey “Roadster” and £988 for the “XK” Jaguar. Even selling in strictly limited numbers, as such cars must, they can bring us in useful revenue and it is highly satisfactory both that this country still makes these genuine sports-cars and that the world is enthusiastic to purchase them.

The Trend of Sports-Car Design

Aston – Martin “Spa Replica.”
Four cylinders, 82.55 by 92 mm., 1,970-c.c. Push-rod operated overhead valves, 7.25 to 1 compression ratio, 95 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m. Two S.U. carburetters, coil ignition, Lodge 14-mm. plugs, Auto-Klean oil filter, Lucas electrical equipment. Borg and Beck clutch, four-speed gearbox giving ratios of 3.9, 4.9, 7.3 and 11.4 to 1, divided Hardy-Spicer propeller shaft to hypoid-bevel rear axle. Independent front suspension by trailing arms and coil springs. Coil-spring rear suspension. Armstrong hydraulic shock-absorbers. Girling hydraulic brakes. Dunlop 5.25-18 tyres on centre-lock wire wheels; 15-gallon fuel tank. Wheelbase 8 ft. 3 in., track 4 ft. 6 in.; 5,000 r.p.m. in top gear equals 112 m.p.h.; 2,500 f.p.m. piston speed equals 93 m.p.h. in top gear.

Frazer-Nash “High Speed.”
Six cylinders, 66 by 96 mm., 1,971-c.c. Inclined overhead valves operated by horizontal push-rods, 9.5-to-1 compression ratio, 120 b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m., three Solex carburetters, coil ignition, Lodge 10-mm. plugs, Tecalemit oil filter. Borg and Beck clutch, four-speed gearbox giving ratios of 3.55, 4.61, 7.72 and 12.42 to 1, Hardy Spicer propeller shaft to spiral-bevel rear axle. Independent front suspension by wishbones and transverse leaf spring. Torsion-bar rear suspension. Newton hydraulic shock absorbers. Lockheed 2 L.S. hydraulic brakes; 5.25-16 tyres on centre-lock disc wheels; 16 gallon fuel tank. Wheelbase 8 ft., track 4ft.; 5,500 r.p.m. in top gear equals 117 m.p.h.; 2,500 ft. per min. piston speed equals 84 m.p.h. in top gear.

Healey.
Four cylinders, 80.5 by 100 mm., 2,443-c.c. Inclined o.h. valves operated from two camshafts by short push-rods, 6.9-to-1 compression ratio, 104 b.h.p. at 4,500 r.p.m. Two S.U. carburetters, coil ignition, Lodge plugs, Tecalemit oil filter, Lucas electrical equipment. Borg and Beck clutch, four-speed gearbox giving ratios of 3.5, 4.963, 7.542 and 12.761 to 1, enclosed propeller shaft to spiral-bevel rear axle. Independent front suspension by trailing arms and coil springs. Coil spring rear suspension. Girling hydraulic shock-absorbers. Lockheed 2 L.S. hydraulic brakes; 5.75-15 tyres on bolt-on disc wheels; 13 1/2 gallon fuel tank. Wheelbase 8 ft. 6 in.; track (front) 4ft. 6 in., (rear) 4 ft. 5 in. 4,500 r.p.m. in top gear equals 100 m.p.h.; 2,500 ft. per min. piston speed equals 71 m.p.h. in top gear.

Jaguar “XK 100” and “XK 120.”
Four cylinders, 80.5 by 98 mm., 1,995-c.c. or six cylinders, 83 by 106 mm., 3,442-c.c. Overhead valves operated by two o.h. camshafts, 7-to-1 compression ratio, 95 b.h.p. (“XK 100”) or 120 b.h.p. (“XK 120”) at 5,000 r.p.m. Two S.U. carburetters, 12-volt coil ignition, Champion plugs, Tecalemit full-flow oil filter, Lucas electrical equipment. Borg and Beck clutch, four-speed gearbox giving ratios of 4.09, 5.59, 8.1 and 13.79 to 1 (“XK 100”) or 3.643, 4.98, 7.23 and 12.3 to 1 (“XK 120”), Hardy Spicer propeller shaft to hypoid-bevel rear axle. Independent front suspension by wishbones and torsion bars. Semi-elliptic leaf-spring rear suspension. Hydraulic shock-absorbers. Girling hydraulic brakes; 6.00-16 tyres on bolt-on disc wheels; 15-gallon fuel tank. Wheelbase 8 ft. 6 in., track (front) 4 ft. 3 in., (rear) 4 ft. 2 in.; 5,000 r.p.m. in top gear equals 98 m.p.h. (“XK 100”) or 110 m.p.h. (“XK 120”); 2,500 ft. per min. piston speed equals 76.5 m.p.h. (“XK 100”) or 79.3 m.p.h. (“XK 120”) in top gear.

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