A variety of vehicles

The Editor enjoys the comfort of the new Humber Sceptre, the liveliness of the Ford Anglia Super and the versatility of the Renault Estafette.

At the beginning of the year Rootes announced a new small Humber, type name Sceptre, which should go a great deal of the way towards meeting that elusive ideal, a luxury small car. As we mentioned briefly in a previous issue, the Humber Sceptre is a combination of earlier Rootes models, with a Rapier radiator grille and traces of Hillman, Singer and Super Snipe about it. It has a twin Zenith carburetter version of the rally-bred 81.5 x 76.2 mm. (1,592 c.c.) alloy-head push-rod o.h.v. Rootes power unit, developing 85 1/2 gross b.h.p. at 5,200 r.p.m., coupled to a 4-speed gearbox with synchromesh on 2nd, 3rd and top, and overdrive operating on the two upper ratios, top gear being 4.22 to 1, overdrive-top 3.38 to 1.

Suspension fellows the previous practice of this company, with leaf springs to a rigid back axle and i.f.s. by coil springs and wishbones, with an anti-roll torsion bar. The Sceptre is stopped by Lockheed disc/drum brakes, Servo assisted. The stylish body lines are built round a sharply curved windscreen with well raked side pillars and a lower roof-line than that of a Sunbeam Rapier. Forward visibility is good, the front wings imposingly broad to accommodate dual headlamps.

Equipment of this small Humber is very complete and well thought out. The interior decor apes Jaguar, with a wide central console over the gearbox, but instead of the wood-and-leather interior of many British luxury cars, the Sceptre has an anti-dazzle black facia and p.v.c. upholstery.

The controls and more particularly the instrument layout are certainly impressive and redolent of the less-complicated light aeroplanes. Shapely hooded 120-m.p.h. speedometer with total and trip with decimal mileage indicators, and tachometer, the latter having warning marks at 5,200 and 5,500-6,000 r,p.m., confront the driver and to the left of these are four small dials, indicating water temperature, oil pressure, dynamo charge and fuel contents, the petrol level being electrically recorded, although the gauge overlooks at least a gallon, perhaps to enable it to give a zero warning a ridiculously long distance before the supply is fully exhausted. Three of the customary warning lights (for ignition, indicators and full-beam) are recessed neatly into the facia sill behind and between speedometer and tachometer. These dials are calibrated in steps of 20, which is faintly confusing. Below and between them is an overdrive-in-use light, ingeniously dimmed when the car’s lamps are on.

The top of the central console carries wipers (2-speed), lamps, ignition-cum-starter and choke controls, the twin heater/ventilator quadrants being below these and flanking a Smiths electric clock that lost approximately two minutes a day. Below again, on the slope of the console, is a radio, flanked by control knobs for screen washing and cigarette lighter. The main part of the console contains a big lidded ash-tray with convenient pull-knob and flick-switches for heater blower and panel lighting (off-dim-bright). If fitted, this is where the fog-lamp flick-switch goes.

The extremely well-placed remote central gaitered gear-lever, with large knob, rises from the flat base of the console, and the hand-brake lever lies out of the way, yet instantly to hand, on the right of the driver’s seat. The steering wheel carries a full horn-ring and imitation drilled spokes. The Jaeger dials are calibrated in English and Continental markings in the Rootes tradition, There is a rubber-covered foot lamps-dipper and neat stalks, one each side of the steering column, control direction-flashers and daylight lamp flashing, and overdrive. There is a lever, controlling influx of cool air round the feet, on the bulkhead and the bonnet toggle, above the driver’s right foot.

All this adds up to an impressive control array. Moreover, the Humber Sceptre is very well equipped. A heater is standard on cars for the British market, the anti-dazzle vizors contain a vanity mirror and there are two reversing lamps which come on when the gear-lever selects reverse. The floor is fully carpeted, and there is courtesy interior lighting from all doors, Lucas dual headlamps, large grab-handle before the front-seat passenger, a really spacious lockable parcels locker, supplemented by an under-facia shelf for the driver (it could do with a deeper lip) and centre folding arm-rest for the back seat. The test car had Dunlop Gold Seal C41 tubeless whitewall nylon 6.00 x 13 tyres which set off effectively the eye-catching lines of this new Humber, and a Rootes Lumax fog-lamp.

I like the Sceptre even better than a Rapier, because it has even more power and four doors. The latter, incidentally, have sill-locks, trigger interior handles, flap-covered exterior locks and push-button releases, all save the driver’s have arm-rests, the front ones have 1/4-lights that close easily with guided catches and possess rain-gutters, the rear ones also have operable vents, and the driver’s window opens quickly with 1 1/2 turns of its winder. The doors open very wide, have proper “keeps,” and shut as a a Humber’s doors should. Bonnet and lockable boot are self-propping and the latter takes an enormous quantity of luggage. There are two big ash-trays in the rear compartment; the off-side one came adrift.

Although the Sceptre has the somewhat spongy steering, slightly harsh gear-change and dead ride that I have criticised previously in the Sunbeam Rapier, I found these less obtrusive in the Humber. The steering, geared just over 3 1/2 turns, lock-to-lock, of which about 1/5th is sponge, is light until held against the castor-return action, when the action becomes tiring. The gear-change is generally excellent, if notchy, but bottom sometimes bilks and it is possible to inadvertently override the safety spring that guards reverse gear when changing down to 2nd in a hurry. The suspension is on the hard side, better at speed than below 50 m.p.h., when it is apt to be uncomfortably lively, and it responds in a dead fashion to road irregularities. It does, however, permit very fast roll-free cornering with moderate understeer.

An excellent aspect of this Humber Sceptre is the control of overdrive by a r.h. stalk which, when flicked down, engages this gear, flicked upwards disengages it, but with the precision and same action as a motorcycle “positive-stop” gear-change, in that subsequent movement in the same direction has no effect. Moreover, a drop into 2nd gear automatically disengages o/d, ready for the next upward gear change. This is the best overdrive control I have encountered; praise be to Rootes and Laycock de Normanville.

There is presumably more sound-proofing in the Sceptre than in a Rapier. At all events, I found the car very quiet, except for some engine noise when accelerating, although some weird rattles emanated from the “Jaguar-crib” between the front scats and the driver’s window drummed faintly.

This Sceptre covers the ground most creditably, and deceptively; without using more than 5,000 r.p.m. speeds of 24, 37 and 57 m.p.h. are available in the indirect lower gears, o/d 3rd gives 71 m.p.h. and o/d top 99 m.p.h. at that speed. Seventy is a good cruising pace and the Lockheed brakes kill speed extremely well and unobtrusively under light-pedal pressures. In a day’s motoring of 350 miles at an overallaverage speed of 30 m.p.h. inclusive of lunch, two prolonged business calls, a stop for coffee and a couple of refuelling stops, I felt no fatigue.

The comfort of the excellent driving seat of foam cushioning over rubber diaphrams which holds one closely, was marred only by slightly off-set steering and more off-set on the pedals. This kind of driving, rounded off with some local driving next day, produced 26.5 m.p.g. of Esso Extra, on which the 85 1/2 b.h.p. engine with its 9.1 to 1 c.r. seemed entirely content. Pottering about increased consumption to 23 m.p.g. The fuel filler is hidden under a horizontal flap on the near-side rear; the tank capacity is quoted as 10 1/2-gallons, which suggests a range of nearly 280 miles. The double curvature screen, which has Triplex zoned safety glass and is, perhaps, prone to slightly distorted vision, is a pioneer feature of the Sceptre; the rear-view mirror is a little shallow.

Other good aspects of the Humber Sceptre are a spring-loaded driving seat adjustable over a full six inches, with means of varying squab angle if wedges are used, complete absence of grease points, childproof locks for the doors, hot-air venting to the rear compartment from a heater (that I found good but not outstanding, de-misting in humid weather being poor) and provision as standard of almost all the equipment any family motorist might covet, apart from a radio, which is available as an extra.

I was especially impressed with the manner in which the suspension coped with a very heavy load in the boot and on the back seat during a fast run without affecting the handling or the braking efficiency. The engine started easily with a minimum of choke but sometimes this took a few attempts before it “caught.” It is a pleasing-looking power unit with its business-like valve cover and deeply recessed sparking plugs. Its dipstick is easily accessible and marked in quantity of lubricant required.

Those who think that small cars should feel light and handle lightly might class the Sceptre with the Rapier as rather heavy in feel and riding action. But it is a car with the commendable merit of being better in this respect the faster it is driven, and anyone seeking a solid, smartly modern, well-built and completely-equipped car need look no further. I predict that the Humber Sceptre will become deservedly popular and the astonishing fact remains that the Rootes Group somehow contrives to sell its latest Humber model for only £997 8s. 9d. inclusive of purchase-tax. The basic price is but £825 and remembering how the £ has depreciated since the war this is a remarkable figure for such a good, well-turned-out, high-performance family car. I must have been one of the first motoring writers to drive the car and I was very favourably impressed. By the time the Humber Sceptre was returned to Barlby Road it had covered 830 miles in our care, and consumed less than a pint of oil.

A motoring writer whose tasks include road-testing sometimes enjoys motoring of a kind far above that provided by his everyday means of transport. Conversely, he may be called upon to take out a car that he considers inferior to his personal or Editorial transport. If he is genuinely interested in cars this latter situation should be less of a hardship than the welcome luxury of the former. Although in my long association with Motor Sport I have never had very exotic or expensive Editorial cars, when the Ford Anglia Super was offered for test I must confess that I was diffident of laying up my personal Morris 1100 in order to drive it, and very glad to return to the B.M.C. product when the test had been concluded.

This was solely due to the fact that the small Dagenham Fords have suspension and braking which have failed to keep pace with the excellent performance provided by the latest Ford power plants—I write, obviously, without experience of the Lotus-Cortina.

The Anglia Super was the first standard Anglia I have tried since the original commendable 80-bore model was marred by the ingress of rain dribbles and carburation flat-spots which the experts at Dagenham seemed a mighty long time in solving. The Anglia Super is distinguishable by the “flashes” along the sides of the 2-door body, more ornate interior trim, including seats looking as if they are upholstered in balloon-fabric, and more complete equipment. It is what cannot be seen that has so greatly improved this Anglia, at the expense of road-holding. Under the bonnet the original 105E 997-c.c. engine is replaced by the 122E 81 x 58 mm. (1,198 c.c.) 3-bearing power unit which develops no less than 48 1/2 (net) b.h.p. at 4,800 r.p.m. on a cr. of 8.7 to 1. This excellent piece of mass-produced machinery is mated to the equally excellent, all-synchromesh 4-speed Ford gearbox, with an appreciably higher bottom gear than that of the smaller-capacity Anglia. It is essentially a small car and on re-acquaintance it is easy to see why Ford introduced the Consul Classic.

I must confess that the performance available, the way in which it is delivered, and the pleasure of using the gearbox went some way towards compensating me for my temporary divorce from the far more comfortable and infinitely safer road-holding and retardation of my Morris 1100. I know there will be many people who will disagree with me—but I ask for comments only from those who have driven both Ford Anglia and Morris 1100— for familiarity breeds, if not contempt, a tendency to get used to any car, however inferior. Those who have driven both cars will, I think, confirm that the latter is infinitely more comfortable and certainly safer when taking sudden avoiding action or cornering near the limit—as it should be, for it has Issigonis/Moulton suspension into which has gone much thought and research, whereas the Ford is sprung rather like a railway carriage, but does not, unfortunately, run on smooth steel rails. Also, the Morris 1100 has disc front brakes…. I refer in all I have written here to the Anglia Super in catalogue guise; I am aware how well racing and rally Fords can be made to corner.

The Ford Anglia Super is an 85-m.p.h. car (as fast as a Cooper-Mini!) geared to cruise unconcernedly at 70 m.p.h. It will go to 32, 43 and 71 m.p.h. in the gears—an impressive 3rd gear maxima, especially as the last-named speed represents no less than 6,270 r.p.m., although with maximum torque developed at 2,700 r.p.m. there is little point in holding 3rd gear beyond 60 m.p.h., except as a demonstration of the high speed at which well-contrived modern mass-production engines will revolve without bursting.

The gearbox, even though the lever is longer than a proper remote control with, therefore, longer movements, encourages quick and frequent gear-changing and this endows the Anglia Super with quite surprisingly good performance for an inexpensive 1100. For instance, 0-50 m.p.h. is accomplished in 13:8 sec., 0-60 in 20.7 sec., 0-70 in 33 1/2 sec., and the revealing s.s. 1/4-mile in 21.8 sec.

Moreover, the engine responds to the throttle willingly and quietly and is notably free from vibration, smoothing out nicely as the revs. mount. This smoothly-delivered acceleration and high cruising speeds on the high top gear of 4.12 to 1 make the Anglia Super a commendably fast car in terms of average speed and traffic negotiation. It is all the more unfortunate, therefore, that the road-holding and cornering qualities are so antiquated. The narrow track, high build, and long supple 1/2-elliptic back springs which alone locate the rigid back axle, and pillar-type coil-spring i.f.s., pioneered years and years ago by Morgan and Lancia but abandoned by the latter make, result in all manner of nasty consequences—axle tramp when accelerating on or just driving over rough roads, too much up-and-down movement when the car is lightly loaded, some lurching roll, terminating in oversteer on a slippery surface from the normally neutral cornering line, and a tendency to wander and deflect from the intended path over bad surfaces, or in a cross-wind. The steering, light, responsive and with sensible castor-return action, is nothing remarkable, either, although, geared 2 7/8th turns, lock-to-lock, of which only 1/8th of the movement is spongy, it catches the all-too-easy-to-provoke tail slides readily enough in the hands of a sufficiently alert and experienced driver.

The Cortina-size Girling brakes are adequate, but more than that I cannot say. They are certainly not noticeably powerful, the pedal action is dead, unprogressive and quite heavy, and the steering pulls slightly under initial application. The pedal went down almost to the floor before anything very much happened.

As to the rest of this Ford Anglia Super, it is so similar to the smaller-engined Anglia, a full road-test report on which appeared in Motor Sport for December 1959, that I need hardly recap, except to mention small, rather too spongy, not very comfortable seats, convenient stalk-controls for lamps-dipping and flashers-cum-horn, a good heater, a 90-m.p.h. oval speedometer incorporating the usual warning lights, total with decimal (but no trip) mileage indicator, conventional pull-up handbrake lever, a very clear rear-view mirror, two heavy doors with crude but effective “keeps,” and a deep lockable cubby-hole unable to take a Rollieflex camera.

Stowage is otherwise confined to an under-facia shelf, there being no door pockets or rear shelf. The Anglia Super has as standard equipment a cigarette lighter, screen-washers, twin horns, crash-padded facia, and the aforesaid effective heater. The quarter-lights have locking-pips but no rain gutters and wind-noise increases appreciably when they are open. The back side-windows open slightly, which notably enhances ventilation.

There is an accurate fuel gauge for the 7-gallon tank and consumption, in some rapid driving and town negotiation, averaged 34.9 m.p.g., while 1 1/2-pints of oil were consumed in 1,200 miles. The test car was shod with Goodyear 5.20 x13 4-ply “All Weather Rib” tubeless tyres. The plating on the lamps-stalk reflected in the screen and the reverse-angle back window occasionally reflected the rear side-windows, causing the driver to think he was being followed by some ghostly object. Boot space is adequate but reduced by the vertically mounted spare wheel; the lid can be locked and is self-supporting. “5200” and “Super” motifs on the body ensure snob-appeal.

This Ford Anglia Super really does motor very effectively and its engine and gearbox are delightful. Having said that, I can find nothing outstanding about this rather crude little car that bucks, lurches and tramps on its antiquated suspension and needs heavy pressure on the brake pedal to stop it in an emergency. It costs £598 13s. 9d. inclusive of p.t. and isn’t for one moment comparable in the matter of comfort, spaciousness, cornering-power, safety and modernity with the 4-door Morris 1100 (price £593, or £623 with heater, in de luxe form). Another dated feature of this Ford is the eleven nipples calling for fresh grease every 1,000 miles.

Nor did the old-fashioned Ford radio that took so long to warm up, wipers that left a 2-in. deep band of rain in front of the driver’s eyes, a clutch that groaned oddly when taking the load at the commencement of each new day, a generator that showed discharge at a fairly fast tick-over, and windows, shall we say, that become somewhat porous in rain, endear me to this little car. Yet, let’s be fair. It served with unfailing reliability for over 1,000 in my hands, over a rather tiring Easter’s motoring, and it is, of course, an out-dated model.

I expect the newer Fords are much better and I shall look forward to trying, for example, the Cortina G.T. and Capri G.T., for Grand Touring cars nearly always appeal to me.

Finally, I drove 425 miles in a couple of days in a 15-cwt. Renault Estafette High Roof Van, which is quite a remarkable little vehicle—little only in respect of its very game 1,108-c.c. five-bearing engine, for the body is astonishingly roomy, having 215 cu. ft. carrying capacity. Not only is this Renault extremely accommodating but it has a very low floor, thanks to front-wheel-drive, which greatly simplifies loading heavy objects, while the twin half-height rear doors and self-supporting top panel at the rear and wide sliding door on the off-side, further facilitate loading.

I borrowed the Estafette after being very impressed with the manner in which these little Renault 12-seater ‘buses rushed us into and out of Madrid to the hideout where the test R8s were hidden last year, on the occasion of the Press-premier of this excellent small car. The arrival of this lofty van co-incided with some domestic removal work, with which the Estafette coped as well as the ‘buses had with their human loads. We packed it literally to the roof, relying for rearward vision on the external mirrors—normally the big back window gives an admirable view in the interior mirror—but this had no effect on handling and performance. The Estafette has a Michelin-shod wheel at each corner and clings securely to the road, helped round difficult bends by some extra throttle (f.w.d., remember) and, with its forward control and excellent vision through a big screen, that is effectively de-misted by a powerful heater-unit with hot-air fed as required to both sides of the driving compartment independently, it is as easy to drive as a car.

This unusual but essentially practical van is no sluggard, in spite of its modest engine size. It will go along at 55 m.p.h. if encouraged and the engine is very smooth at the legal speed of 40 m.p.h. Acceleration is surprisingly good, especially the step-off in bottom gear, and the gear-change, with synchromesh on all four forward speeds, is very easy once one is accustomed to a “back-to-front” gate and the man-sized lever behind one. There is a normal pull-up handbrake lever, stalk controls for direction-flashers and lamps-cum-horn, the lamps selection by rotary action a la Dauphine, and the 65-m.p.h. Jaeger speedometer incorporates the usual warning lights. Other commendable features of the Estafette include fresh-air venting above the windscreen, effective screen wipers, strong bumpers, rotary-action interior lamps front and back, well-placed grab-handles and steps for getting into the cab, separate seats like those in the R4, which were supremely comfortable even when occupied for over 200 miles at a stretch, and useful storage in a well-lipped open central cubby hole and on the lipped shelf behind the screen. The ride, too, is comfortable and the noise level not excessive for a van, while no heat is evident from the engine cover between the seats. Not a drop of water came in, even in a driving cloudburst.

The speedometer is marked with maxima in 1st, 2nd and 3rd gears of 8, 23 and 40 m.p.h., respectively. The Renault sealed-cooling system is used, there is an effective fuel gauge and sensibly placed filler in the rear off-side corner, Cibie headlamps, well-placed switches for wipers and heater fan and sliding windows in the doors. The engine thrives on mixture-grade petrol and gives at least 30 m.p.g. Altogether one of the better vans, perhaps a trifle small to act as a racing-car transporter but just the job for go-karts, workshop van, caravan or small ‘bus. I was much impressed, especially at the modest price of £690, inclusive of heater, de-mister and spare wheel. If there is a more companionable, nippy and pleasant-to-drive small van no doubt I shall hear about it; until I do I am a 100% Estafette enthusiast!—W. B.