MATTERS OF MOMENT, May 1970

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THE FUTURE OF THE SPORTS CAR

It used to be said that in the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turned to thoughts of love. In this permissive age their minds dwell almost continually on sex. But as May Day has arrived, when the fresh air without should be getting a little warmer, it is opportune to contemplate open-car motoring, as provided by the sports-car.

Young men sooner or later seek the company of young women and for this reason they have no use for single-seater transport. From the very early days motorcycles were converted into forecars or had trailers or sidecars attached to them for this very reason. Solo motorcycles acquired “flapper-brackets” or Tansads on which the girls of the ‘twenties perched. Monopostos have never caught on, away from the race-circuits. In the air the Cooper Swift may have been a splendid racing aeroplane but once the competition was over, owner-pilots of the period sought Gipsy Moths or, better still, Blackburn Bluebird side-by-side-seaters so that they could fly, literally, with the Birds. Perhaps this was how the two-seater sports car was born and why it has persisted for so many decades? These days there are definite signs that homo sapiens has become soft and doesn’t much like God’s fresh air. For gone are the open-top ‘buses, the openable tourers and London taxicabs, and when they ask you at the Aero Club to come for a “flip” (now called a “trip”) you do so in lounge suit in a covered, heated cabin, while the pilot starts up with a press-button. Sidcots and fur-trimmed flying helmets are these days for the hardy minority, a dying race. Nevertheless, the sports car, which harks back to a tougher, healthier past, has survived, even if, in this umbrella-land, one encounters them mostly with hoods up or hard-tops in place, and they have discarded fold-flat windscreens.

However used (and when MOTOR SPORT sampled an Austin-Healey Sprite in 1967 we found it could conveniently be used open on 20 days out of 33) the sports car, and by this we mean the openable two-seater, not the fixed-top coupe ,has survived. Just after the war the Abingdon MGs represented one of Britain’s most profitable exports to America and today, apart from the Honda S800 and a few exotics like the Alfa Romeo Spiders, Zagato Lancias, etc., and the expensive AC 428 and Aston Martin Volante which come more in the category of soft-top GT cars, the sports cars which are available on the Home Market are all British-made. This market is the preserve of Austin Healey Sprite, Jaguar E-type, Lotus Elan S4 and Lotus 7, MG Midget and MG-B, Morgan 4/4 and Morgan Plus 8, and Triumph Spitfire and Triumph TR6, ranging in price from £838 to £2,351. These cars offer fun, fresh-air and a sense of controllability and zest not imparted by many saloon cars, even if most of the sports car’s components derive from the latter, so that their performance is not necessarily all that much more impressive. Not only have these sports cars survived, but last year their home sales were up over those of 1968, British Leyland selling 6,542 MG-Bs and Cs, 5,343 sports Triumphs, 3,725 “Spridgets” and 991 Jaguar E-types (some of these were presumably coupés, as the SMMT, from whom these interesting statistics come, do not give precise details). Moreover, there are some significant sports-car developments pending. The Continental Correspondent has hinted that Mercedes-Benz are working on a revolutionary super sports car, though this may well be a coupe, but we may expect interesting British moves in the sports-car or soft-top 2-3-2 field in the foreseeable future. For this reason, and motivated by the surprisingly large Triumph TR correspondence recently received by MOTOR SPORT, we propose to have something of a sports-car bias in the next two issues, with a leading article on such cars in June, and an account of what it is like to road-test and live with a Mk. 4 Lotus 7 together with other sports-car material, in July. We are convinced that the future of the true sports two-seater is secure, that it will continue to be in demand while motoring means, to enthusiasts, something more than mundane transportation.

DATSUN DOMINATION

Having taken Nissan-Datsun to task in February for their dishonest advertising of the East African Safari Rally results of 1969, it is only fair to recognise their impressive domination of the 1970 Safari, in which Datsun finished 1st, 2nd and 4th, and took the coveted Team Prize in this incredibly tough rally, in which 72 cars failed even to complete the course. Datsun lost third place to another Safari-famed breed, Peugeot, and the only other makes to finish in the first six places were Volvo and Triumph. This convincing Datsun success should help to sell lots of Japanese cars and must surely indicate to British Leyland, Ford and Rootes that they cannot afford to relax their competition activities in any way. Indeed, the Vauxhall section of General Motors might be well advised to enter the stern field of competitive motoring in an endeavour to eclipse the Rising Sun.