Rumblings, May 1956

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The Amateur Census

Good-looking females have played a big part in motor-car publicity but it now looks as if the kids may be joining in, if not ousting the charming model-girls from their glamorous poses in and around the new cars. At all events, B.M.C. have produced the picture of a (rather precocious-looking) small schoolboy leaning on his father’s Austin A90 Westminster and proclaiming to another youngster: “Goes like a bird — my new Austin.”

Ford countered this with a page in Punch depicting two small boys taking a roadside census and “discovering that one in every four new vehicles is built by Ford of Dagenham.” I am delighted by this advertisement, because I have long been under the impression that those sharp-eyed young people who peer at us as we drive by and then jot something down in their notebooks are inscribing our registration numbers and not the makes of our cars. I am always too shy or in too much of a hurry to stop and ask them (and, anyway, usually when I stop my car to speak to a young lady she either runs smartly across the road or melts into the shadows) — but I seem to remember a newspaper account of how a car wanted by the police was traced as a result of this children’s hobby of compiling lists of car numbers. Aside from that, I regard this as yet another instance of decadence, for in my young days I took a proper census of the passing cars.

Nor was I alone, for the weekly motor papers of those free and far-away days were not above publishing the outcome of an amateur census in their correspondence columns. Morris usually headed the list, with Ford and Austin in hot pursuit, and things like Delaunay-Belleville, Sheffield-Simplex and Belsize-Bradshaw coming right at the end, amongst the “one of each.” Some of these amateur census-takers would record a thousand cars and more. I acquired this delightful habit when on holiday at my aunt’s in Buckinghamshire, walking along the footpath of the Waddesdon-Bicester road before kerbstones and safety signs and new factory buildings disfigured it. The habit persists, and I have compiled a census within the past few years, to while away the odd spare hour, such as at Spa, where Kent Karslake and I sipped potent drinks outside our hotel on the eve of a Belgian Grand Prix and decided to check up on what sort of cars were going by.

Alas, in spite of that Ford advertisement, I think the joy of amateur census-taking has almost died out. Now the children cry “It’s 333 BBB,” whereas in my schooldays we shouted “Here’s another Rover Eight and I can see our first Trojan coming the other way.”

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Cars in Books

Last year one of the most successful articles we published was that about the motor car in fiction. It was a long time before the correspondence that this article of the Editor’s produced finally thinned out, and ever since we have felt a little glow of satisfaction whenever we have encountered additional “motor cars in fiction.” It is rather surprising how often cars are mentioned by make in biography and autobiography. Without enlarging on the subject to the extent that we did with the cars in fiction, it is worth recounting that the last two non-fiction books we read both contained such reference. Florence Desmond’s autobiography, besides some interesting references to the record-breaking flights of her first husband, Torn Campbell Black, tells us that when Florence first went to Hollywood she found that socially a car was essential — so she bought a Ford V8. In his entertaining book “The Life for Me,” by Rupert Croft-Cooke (Macmillan, 1952), this fastidious author refers rather nicely to his motoring, although he makes it quite clear that he is no motoring enthusiast. In spite of this he sees motoring as a sport, reminding us that of all the volumes which comprised “The Badminton Library of Sports and Pastimes,” those on motoring and archery were the ones most keenly sought. He pays due tribute to the Opel Cadet he bought in 1938, driving in that last pre-war autumn down to Marseilles and up the east side of France to Alsace, and later journeying to Kassel in Hesse and to Switzerland. In the summer of 1939 this Opel pulled a trailer caravan following Rosaire’s Circus and, after spending the war period in an open barn, it was put on the road again six years later and “has since done four years’ hard on daily service in London and two in the country, with one journey to the north of Norway and two to the south of France. I can still leave here (Ticehurst) for Brighton at eight o’clock on a winter’s night with reasonable confidence that it will bring me home over the thirty-five miles of lonely road after midnight.” This recalls an article which Anthony Phelps wrote for Motor Sport during the war, entitled “There’s Worse Things Than Opels.”

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Best-Sellers

Speculation as to whether the Volkswagen will be able to retain its lead in world markets or whether other cars are arriving which will rival its proud position, is intriguing. The Stockholm Show focused attention on this matter, for during 1955 the sales of’ VWs were 24,400, closely rivalled by the Volvo PV444, of which 23,700 found customers — compared with Britain’s best of 2,800 Ford Anglias.

The Opel Record is a car which is breathing down Wolfsburg’s neck, but we have had no experience of it. The Renault Dauphine is cited as a VW challenger; it handles better, is more compact and has four doors, against which it has not quite so much luggage space, lacks the high-quality bodywork and fittings for which the German car is noted but gives better fuel economy than the larger-engined air-cooled vehicle. In action, the Dauphine handles extremely well — whereas Volkswagen oversteer is legendary, but the French car has but three forward speeds in its gearbox and water surrounds its engine. In Australia the Holden appears to serve its owners satisfactorily. ‘Tis said that Wolfsburg is about to further reduce the price of the VW and that their technicians have a very fine improved model coming along, for release if and when it is expedient to introduce it. Time alone will tell . . .

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They Say

“Three entirely new British Fords have been announced — new in the sense that they are different from the previous models. True, they are longer, wider, and more powerful, but they betray a certain lack of originality in conception: sort of newly-made suet puddings of the type the British love so well. If foreign sales are of importance, there is bound to be some disappointment, at least so far as the U.S. is concerned.” — Gordon Wilkins, writing under the heading “The Conservative Britons” in the April issue of Motor Trend.

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“It is a sad suspicion of mine that when a British motor maker sets out to produce a new car the first thing that he restyles is the ignition key . . . the last thing he thinks of is independent suspension.” — Mike Hawthorn, writing in the Sunday Express dated April 1st.

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The abrupt fall in the sales of British cars in Sweden, which has helped to cause short-time working in Coventry and Birmingham, has now been attributed by Swedish dealers to inferior design, poor service, and bad salesmanship.” — From The Manchester Guardian of March 9th.

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“. . . unless some friend with another make can show better results than I have had, my next car will be another Volkswagen.” — R. D. English writing under the heading “I’ve Found a Rough-rider for the Farm” in The Grocer of February 18th.

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