LOOKING BACK

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LOOKING BACK

BEING AN ACCOUNT OF SOME VARIED ROAD TESTS CONDUCTED FOR “MOTOR SPORT” IN the beginning this article was inspired by the annual habit of a very popular motor-cycling, journalist, who thus summarizes his experiences of all the machines road-tested in the course of a year’s riding for his paper. Why, then, shouldn’t we do something of the same absorbing sort in MOTOR SPORT? Now war is upon us, and, further roadtesting being most unlikely for a while, at all events on the generous scale of former times, it seems a reasonable scheme to touch briefly on each Of the cars road-tested, so far as the present writer is concerned, since his association with this paper. Some cars stand out for their sheer performance, others on account of interesting experiences and undertakings accomplished with them, but each one has definite character of its own. It is interesting that, although each has been handled very much as an ordinary owner, as distinct from a professional motor scribe, would use the car, indeed, driven hard in every instance as your true enthusiast likes to drive, usually over extensive continuous mileages, only once has a car left us stranded, and only in one other instance has a major repair needed to be effected on

the road. The experience gained in trying all these divers makes and types ba$ been enthralling beyond words. One cannot attempt to name one car in any particular group as being the ” best,” or -offering the best value for money, for each, in its own way, appeals for a particular job of work or ‘given set of conditions. Let us see how this observation applies to each individual car taken out for test, rather than try to tabulate performance data in attempting to pick out invidious ” ideals.” First, then, the Talbot Ten open ” Alpine ” tourer, tested towards the end Of 1936. A very handsome little car, especially as it had aluminium wheel discs, and one to remember for its smooth, willing flow of power and general convenience of handling. It did not pretend to be a super-sports sort of vehicle, the maximum speed being about 66 m.p.h. But it could put up very decent averages by reason of good brakes, balanced corner ing and excellent steering. This lastnamed characteristic was most pronounced, the smooth, light action being quite rare at that time and, indeed, previously experienced, albeit to an even finer degree, only on the remarkable B.M.W. I recall that we used the Talbot for a day’s run to Shelsley and back, amongst other trips, in company with a blown M.G. Midget and a Brescia Bugatti, and, in torrential rain, found the weather protection extremely snug. Seven hundred and fifty miles were covered altogether and they left a highly favourable impression ; this car was the only one in which the writer has ever been apprehended for exceeding 30 m.p.h. in a built-up area, which perhaps is a tribute to its easy ability to rim fast. Incidentally, Talbots keep a fleet of Press cars, each one beautifully turned out and handed over with a comprehensive log book containing detailed information about the car and

a note to Authority that the car insurance is all in order. Barbly Road is truly the road tester’s idea :of heaven ! Next, a six-cylinder, closed BroughSuperior, which took us some long runs in very wintery conditions. Five hundred and eighty fast miles were completed in it altogether and we became accustomed to using its abundence of power to cruise comfortably at 70 m.p.h. and to accelerate up to 50 m.p.h. in under 14 secs. A high degree of stability allied to completely silent cruising made the Brough Very pleasing to handle on long, rather trying runs, particularly as the Lockheed brakes were amply able to deal with

emergencies. Here was the typical American automobile re-bodied and redesigned to conform to British ideals and a very pleasant machine had resulted. Not long afterwards we had extensive experience (672 miles) of one of the first of the T-type M.G. Midgets. Here was a thoroughly lively small sports-car, yet one without .a trace of embarrassing temperament. Its 1,292 c.c. engine gave its power willingly and the gear-change was good synchro-mesh in the modern

style. In its manner of handling this latest M.G. was grand fun to drive, and after lunch with George Tuck at the Abingdon Works we found it, even so, surprisingly quick over not too familiar roads. It did a genuine 80 m.p.h. (4,000 r.p.m.) round Brooklands and 0-50 m.p.h. in 16 Secs. and the push-rod power unit revved to 6,000 r.p.m. on bottom gear. So it is hardly surprising that, bound for Peterborough one Sunday morning, we accomplished what was then a new personal record for mileage covered in one hour, since bettered only in a car many times the engine capacity and price of the M.G. Moreover, this very real and reliable little sports-car was doing a cool 27 m.p.g. The next 300 miles or so of professional

dicing were done in one day in a Type 45, 2-litre Frazer-Nash-B.M.W. saloon. It was not the first B.M.W. we had driven, or been driven in, for Aldington’s own Type 55 had previously been loaned

for a trial. Nevertheless, we found it difficult to restrain our enthusiasm for that marvellous steering, high-geared, yet so exceedingly light and smooth, and for the remarkable suspension, combining Comfort and absolute stability to an extreme degree. Add to that a maximum speed of 75 m.p.h., perfect brakes, an engine able to rev, without complaint to 5,500 r.p.m., and a power-weight ratio resulting in 0-50 m.p.h. in under 14 sees. and it is easy to understand how we left London near to Mid-day, drove to Clacton, lunched, walked, had tea, and got home again at mid-evening, enjoying every second of the drive. You could sum up this B.M.W. by saying that however casually you drove you seemed to average 40 m.p.h. in complaisant security. Another Continental, the little Italian Fiat ” 500,” proved highly entertaining on a 250 mile day’s jaunt to the Cotswolds and back. The road holding qualities made up for any lack of speed, as speed, over give and take roads, and there was lots to be said for a fuel consumption of 45 m.p.g. from a baby capable of doing

real big-car work for it.: living. Since then further experience of what is one of the most outstanding youngsters of our time, shows that an average of over 35 m.p.h. is possible on a long, main-road run, given certain concentration in cornering and ready manipulation of that rigid lever controlling an excellent four-speed gearbox. An Austin Ten ” Cambridge ” saloon, used as utility transport over an Easter holiday, served very materially to emphasise how excellent is the low priced British family car. For that Austin could do its 60 m.p.h. without much effort, gave 28 m.p.g., and would corner without disaster with the tyres howling, if you wished. And it was the sort of car which gave heaps of enjoyment with .complete freedom from worry, being easy to handle, with excellent driver-visibility, and seemingly capable of going on for .ever without any sort of attention. It is on such productions as these that much of the British Motor Industry’s reputation

rests. Covering 400 miles in a day, mostly hill-storming in the Salisbury district, with a iflitre Meadows-H.R.G. was most satisfying. This HX) per cent. sports job proved able to do 71 m.p.h. in third .(5,000 r.p.m.) and to cover the Brookland’s half-mile at 88 m.p.h. Hills like Ibberton troubled it not at all, and on the open road it cruised indefinitely at 70, the thermometers indicating no signs of distress. Moreover, with all this, it did a full 30 m.p.g. Its road-holding and steering were definitely thoroughbred in rather the old-school style and it was delightful to handle a quick plain gearbox

with a visible gate. H.R.G.s keep no special Press car but their attitude to would-be road-testers is most pleasantly tolerant and informal. About this time the four-cylinder, ” 14/60 ” Triumph ” Dolomite ” saloon provided a chance to sample the better type of British utility car. The road-holding, steering . and general layout, including the remote control gear change, endeared the car to the sportsman, even if the particular example tested was a trifle disappointing as to fuel economy and sheer maximum speed. Four hundred and fifty miles in the Triumph’s company resulted in a full appreciation of the comfortable and effortless motoring which .038, wisely spent, will procure. A friend put up a truly astounding average speed with this

Dolomite” into the bargain and so handsome was it externally that we actually went to a local dance in it one evening, in lieu of motoring. The A.C. has always been subject to the attention of enthusiasts and has had the light-alloy, single o.h. camshaft six-cylinder engine ever since the days when S. F. Edge looked so competently after this, unique firm’s businesss interests. Something over 500 miles’ driving in the

1937 ” 16/80″ Competition two-seater revealed the strong charm of the A.C. Six in modern guise. Although it is beautifully equipped and appointed and its engine very sweet, as a good six should be, and scarcely sensitive to variations of ignition timing, the car is nevertheless a real performer. Returning from Shelsley Walsh we cruised indefinitely and very pleasantly at 60 m.p.h. (3,000 r.p.m.) and later investigation on Brooklands showed the absolute maximum to be 86 m.p.h. and 0-50 m.p.h. .acceleration to occupy just over 11 secs. This AC.. too, gave the writer claim to a clean climb of Knatt’s Valley, in spite of a deflating rear tyre. Like every other presentday sports-car (the exceptions, alas, are too few to worry about) the gearbox had synchro-mesh, the lever, with an outsize knob, working quickly with excellent action. The steering, too, was of modern, light, smooth conception and interesting variations in suspension and road-clinging characteristics could be made via

the facia-operated Telecontrols. This individualistic engine motored very nicely, be it at 400 or 4,800 r.p.m.

About this period brief re-acquaintance with an Allard-Special reminded us how well Sydney Allard has attended to V8 Ford steering and suspension and, incidentally, gave the writer his best Brooklands-driver lap to date, at nearly 86 m.p.h., the car slightly restive at around 95 over the Fork.

The General Motors Corporation is known to have done intensive research work for many years and a reflection of this was provided by a Vauxhall 25 ” saloon, outwardly a very ordinary machine, which, nevertheless, was quite .amusing to drive, the independent front suspension and solid feel of the frontworks engendering confidence, So that something like 81 m.p.h. was reached in teeming rain and, cruising mostly at 70 on the clock, this roomy and sensiblyappointed automobile covered the 116 miles out of Finchley, to Donington, in three hours dead. The 2i-litre Opel Cabriolet, obtained for test after rather a tussle with the man who was then Publicity Manager to this German-American firm, possessed roadholding qualities of the high Order which one had come to expect of Continental productions, albeit the independent front suspension was really quite supple, as it has been found to be on the smaller Opel ” Cadet.” and not quite in the B.M.W. catagory as regards sheer perfection of control. Even so, these Continental productions all show-up the British technician and his eternal half-elliptics. The Opel had a very effortless and willing 2i-litre push-rod engine and a threespeed gearbox, and very powerful brakes. Like its smaller brother its castor action in the steering was conspicuous by its

absence. Rather ” Yank ” in some aspects, the convertible bodywork was very acceptable, and the Opel was quite a mile-eater, and good for 70 m.p.h. on the Trrack.

On the subject of extremely fine roadholding qualities of Continental cars, the unique little two-stroke D.K.W. stands right out in this respect. The back-bone frame and independent suspension not only results in a car which steers and rides beautifully, but which feels absolutely right and in entire agreement with its driver. Consequently, in spite of the 684 c.c. two-stroke twocylinder engine giving no more than 50 m.p.h., we averaged quite a reasonable speed to the coast and back, although quite unused to the car. There is a strong fascination about the purr of the motor, and its gentle bleating as it over-runs on the free-wheel, and it had • quite a deal of pick-up urge, while the dash-board gear-lever could be operated quite rapidly with practice. The whole car rode absolutely solidly and the driving position

could not be bettered. An ambition lingers, to instal an engine of some 30 b.h.p. in this very clever little car, on the grounds that it would handle remarkably well at any speed you could get out of it. We seem to have tried a lot of Continentals about this time—the opening months of 1938—for next on the list is the eleven hundred Fiat ” Balilla ” saloon—all very modern, with its sloping radiator grille and flush, pull-up door handles. And that Fiat had unexpected urge and handled as we had expected, so that we contrived to cover the 90 miles from the works to Prescott in exactly 2 hours ; very fine going for a cheap car

of this h.p. A high degree of controlability, of course, was responsible for this performance (one half-hour check gave an average of 48 m.p.h.) as the actual maximum was about 64 m.p.h. Subsequent experimentation up Prescott itself revealed that the Fiat was remarkably stable, even at racing speeds, and in spite of the rolling which photographs subsequently proved tol,e fairly excessive. If the “interior decoration” was plain, visibility was excellent, rear-seat comfort good and altogether this under £200 saloon impressed us very favourably indeed. But the fuel consumption was heavy and the firm’s Press service on the lackadaisical side. Now, for a complete change, we borrowed a Dodge 25.3 h.p. “Custom Six” saloon—the sort of automobile a friend lovingly calls a “big, vulgar yank.” Really, there was lots to be said for this class of car. It was the sort of vehicle in which you could invite five friends away for a week-end trip with no preceding or subsequent worries about their comfort. The driver does hardly any real work and gets high averages just the same. Cruising at 60-70 m.p.h. was rendered effortless by reason of the overdrive and liberal acceleration there on

tap. Brooklands was lapped at 72/ m.p.h. and at the other extreme we coaxed that Dodge very successfully up Lythe Right, when that hill was nice and sticky, though unfortunately removing a wing on ” Allard’s tree ” in the process. Nor was the fuel consumption too unreasonable, for 3/ litres of motor-16-17 m.p.g. A day’s experience of this Dodge enabled us to understand better the considerable proportion of such palatial ” airships ” which you find on British roads. A Lancia ” Aprilia ” saloon added 759 very pleasant miles to the log, and here was a car approaching the personal ideal. Handling as safely and securely at speed as any modern we have tried, with excellent brakes and steering, and finger light controls, this outstanding Italian saloon of very modernistic outline, does over 80 m.p.h., achieves its 0-50 m.p.h. in ll I secs., laps the Weybridge Track at over 75 m.p.h. and yet goes some 32 miles to every gallon of No. I fuel. Its oft-criticised plainness of interior never bothered us and we liked the layout of facia and secondary con trols. A very wonderful production indeed is this ” Aprilia ” and we included competing at Prescott, where you really throw a car about, in our experience of

it. The only major criticism is that it handles so well you never feel that you are dicing. At the opposite extreme so far as effort of control was concerned, but also handling very notably, was a Lw.d. Citroen Twelve saloon. Impressing one as a really big car, rock-steady, comfortable and riding very vsell, this Citroen, if it could not better 65 m.p.h., nevertheless possessed “life ” that came as a pleasant surprise. The front wheel drive, too, was most interesting, and, while being discernible through the steering, was never disconcertingly so ; moreover it certainly contributed to controlability on nasty surfaces, especially when power could be put on while executing an acute swerve. Lots of slime and gradient tested the front drive thoroughly and favourably and we grew to like the facia gear-control, even if it did seem to jeopardise the passenger’s

fingers. In another sphere of activity, this solidly constructed ” Twelve ” put over 50 miles into an hour’s running, admittedly over deserted, but teeming wet, roads. And at Citroen’s, as at Lancia’s, they were courtesy itself. The ” 12 70″ Alvis saloon—latest of a so famous line—stood out for its high degree of refinement, reflected in its interior appointments, delightful gear change, well laid out right hand brake lever, and the unobtrusive functioning of the 1.8-litre, four-cylinder engine. Strange to the car, we averaged over 45 m.p.h. on a difficult journey and this Alvis was capable of 59 m.p.h. in third and 77 m.p.h. in top gear. Again, at

St. James’s Street, the motor scribe receives every attention. Last, but by no means least, the 4+litre Bentley ; in our case a Vanden Plas drophead coupe. Here is an example of British automobile engineering in its finest form. We were lucky enough to be able to take this fine car right up to John o’Groats, from London, establishing what is probably an unofficial record for this run—at all events we got up in 151 hours, averaging 46 m.p.h. for the 702 miles, stopping only for breakfast, or an average of 50.5 m.p.h., running time. The Bentley road-holding, brakes and general controlability allow such averages in complete safety and with a minimum of fatigue—mentally as well as as physically, on which score the known dependability of Derby-bred car S count for much. Corning home, we averaged 51.2 m.p.h. down from Glasgow, the writer setting personal records of 62 m.p.h. for one period of half an hour and 56 miles in the best hour’s running. That was single-man driving, nothing overtook the Bentley and the biggest difficulty was keeping the cruising gait to 80 m.p.h. instead of the maximum of 95 m.p.h., at which speed the engine was as unobtrusive and the whole car as silent as at a crawl. The fuel consumption of nearly 17i m.p.g. impressed us equally with the performance. It is hardly necessary to refer to the beautiful action of the gear change controlled by that slender, right hand lever, to the smooth, progressive retardation of the mechanical brake-servo, to the delightful movements of the secondary controls, indeed, to all those qualities which combine to make the 41-litre Bentley a car esteemed the

world over. One recalls these elusive qualities as soon as this make is mentioned, if one has driven it any distance at all. That, then, is the record of quite an extensive period of testing of a quite wide variety of cars for a paper which had sufficient space, and sufficiently intelligent readers (it is the fashion just now, be you a political weekly or a hippocket “digest,” to throw out an appreciation of your subscribers’ mental

worth . . .) to discuss the resultant impressions and data in considerable detail. It has been a collective opportunity which no enthusiast would have refused.

Of course, over and above these definite tests, has been further experience with one’s own and friends’ cars, of secondhand cars tested and of runs in particularly interesting cars loaned by friendly readers. That has been equally interesting. The question of average speed seems to crop up quite often, because, broadly, it represents a reasonable means of judging and emphasising a car’s good performance-qualities taken as a whole. As a basis of comparison one might remark that a 7 h.p. saloon, known absoltely intimately, gives about 30 m.p.h. driven very bard, which average drops to 25 or so on more difficult, even

long, runs. So some of the cars tried have done very well, regarded only from the angle of an ability to provide rapid transportation.

Quite apart from one’s increased knowledge of modern cars, there has been the joy of driving, of exploring new country, of the company of friends, old and new, of new places visited and fellow enthusiasts met. Only on two occasions has trouble intervened ; both times, curiously, it concerned the clutch mechanism. Looking back, on this job of work, brings extremely happy memories. TO anyone to whom motoring and motor-cars means anything at all, that will be understandable.

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