by an American Correspondent
Over 6,000,000 cars were produced in the United States in 1953. One person in three owns some form of automobile.
There is a very acute interest in cars here, and this is the season when that interest can be satisfied. In fact, New York has had a surfeit of shows. General Motors produced their Motorama, a million dollars’ worth of 1954 cars and experimental “cars of the future.” Then Madison Square Garden gathered cars from round the world to show the public; and now the fourth International Motor Sports Show is upon us. Sad to relate, the Monte Carlo Rally came and passed, ignored, for the most part, by the national press.
To the man in the street, sports cars and foreign cars are synonymous, and it is nationally gratifying that to some extent foreign cars are mostly considered to come from England. Thus in a so-called Motor Sports Show, among the Lancias, Jaguars and Alfas, the true enthusiast is shocked to find Hillmans, English Fords and Austins.
After entering the building, the first car to strike, almost literally, the eye was a huge and hideous machine, coloured a terrible mustard, custom-built for a famous radio star, called “The Phantom Corsair.” Except for this, in the main hall 92 cars of a wide variety of makes were attractively displayed. Although unable to compare in size with Earls Court, the show was well presented and even on the last day the cars and displays showed a high gloss and were well cared for. Rotating stands decorated with an abundance of flowers showed off the more important exhibits. There were attractive girls on many of the stands to supply information to inquirers, although I would not care to vouch for its accuracy. Proper salesmen were also on hand to deal with important matters.
The centre of attraction at the show was the Jaguar stand. Various versions of the famous two-seater were placed around a central stand on which was standing, floodlit in all its splendour, an ivory, gold-plated XK120. Nearby, a sectioned model of the renowned engine drew more than its share of onlookers. Jaguars are immensely popular and have caught the imagination of Americans and this display did nothing to detract from their acclaim. There was always a large crowd around them.
Rootes Group, too, were tastefully showing their wares, including several versions of the very popular Hillman. Despite the special treatment given to the displays of the Austin Healey and the Triumph sports car, the TF M.G. was still the star of the small sports cars in American eyes and was never lacking in admirers, especially among the younger generation. It was obvious that Standard were making an effort to impress, and their star was the Triumph sports car. But this centre-piece, although well presented, was in a sober black and did not show up so well against the ivory and red that were the favourite hues among the sports cars. But I felt that Standards marred their display by showing the Cadet. Its shoddy finish and total absence of interior upholstery made it seem out of place in the show, and in America, superficially at least, the finish on cars reaches a very high standard. I predict that few Cadets will be sold over here. Rolls-Royce and Bentley were well represented. The lovely lines and style of the Bentley Continental have a fascination that no other car can match, while the grandeur of the Rolls proved almost too much for admiring Americans. “Isn’t it wonderful?” the girl was heard to say. “Damned old fashioned, I call it,” replied the boy, yet these cars demanded attention as very few others do.
In contrast to the small, sleek, Continental cars, the few American cars present looked bulky, large and awkward. Packard produced a so-called experimental sports car built of plastic, named the Panther. As large as the largest American convertible, the huge expanse of car behind the driver’s seat irresistibly reminded one of an aircraft carrier, and gave the impression that Packard engineers consider a sports car to be a convertible with the rear seat removed. In this show, the real challenge to European sports cars came from the Chevrolet Corvette and the Kaiser Darrin 161. Both these cars are in quantity production, both have been styled along the lines of European cars and both use glass-fibre bodies. The Corvette was described in detail in the January issue of Motor Sport, so I shall only describe the Kaiser Darrin.
It has a very low smooth line, with a large well-sloped windscreen which curves right round to give maximum visibility, and a radiator small in proportion to normal American styles. To an enthusiast to whom the reckless application of chrome and bulging rear lights is offensive this is a very attractive car, while among its novel features are doors that slide into the front wing to open. (Problem: how to open the door when the sidescreens are fixed in place?) The power plant is a six-cylinder Willys engine, using triple carburation and twin exhausts to develop in the neighbourhood of 100 h.p. Since both these cars are priced in the same region as the Jaguar, this competition from across the sea must he fully realised and cannot be over-emphasised. American car manufacturers do produce a good car cheaply, so that the present heavy, soft-sprung, petrol-eating monsters (by European standards) coming from Detroit are by popular demand. Originally it was economically wise for the American car manufacturer to allow Europe to fill the small demand for sports cars. But with the opening of the market by M.G. and Jaguar, sports cars became popular with the college boy with rich parents, the film or radio star and the man-about-town at his country club who could make a splash with their Jaguars, etc. “European lines” became fashionable, even to the extent of imitation wire wheels to clip over disc wheels. These people, a large part of the sports-car market, do not care so much for a car’s racing qualities as for its ability to give an exciting ride, while being in the height of fashion. This now flourishing market has caught the eye of the American automotive engineers, who have turned their great ability to producing a car to meet its requirements. These two cars, the Corvette and the Darrin, seem to meet all the needs. Even as I write, Ford also announce a sports car to compete both in performance and price with the Chevrolet and the Jaguar.
At this show it became apparent that Britain’s lead in the sports-car market in America was also facing a challenge from the Continent. Mercédès-Benz produced a very attractive stand on which the Type 190 and the Type 300SL were conspicuous. The Italian stands caught the eye and Lancia were displaying the actual car that won the Pan-American race this year. The French are to be congratulated for a good selection of exhibits and for the idea of leaving the bonnet of some cars open and labelling clearly the features inside. An American firm named Arnolt displayed some custom-built bodies with English frames and engines. Particularly fine was the Arnolt-Bristol.
To conclude: Conspicuous by their absence were Jowetts and Allards. The most unorthodox car was the Alfa-Romeo B.A.T., the headlights of which fold into the wings and tail fins that curl futuristically. Congratulations to Rolls-Royce: they sold four cars at the show, which is a good effort by their standards. $60,000 of trade! — W. R.