Earls Court Review
Motor Sport would be justified in ignoring the recently-concluded Motor Exhibition staged by the S.M.M.T. at Earls Court in London, because our readers, who are concerned primarily with motor-racing and sports cars, must have been disgusted to find, this year, that racing cars were banned from the sacred precincts of the Exhibition Hall. Last year two stands contained British racing cars and a very popular aspect of the Show they proved; this year they were verboten, just as they are at the M.I.R.A. test-track at Lindley.
Another reason for ignoring the Motor Show would concern the concerted attempts made by publicity tycoons to bribe, bamboozle and subtly influence technical journalists into writing rosy accounts of their firms’ products. For it is a fact that during the period of the Motor Show all manner of cocktail parties, luncheons and banquets are given to the Press, from which it is obviously hoped that alcohol-hazed writers will emerge anxious to repay the lavish hospitality of their hosts by glowing word-cascades devoted to the merits of Blog Eight, Nifty Nine, Teeming Ten, Ampfull battery or whatever product they have been toasting. I used to ponder on how many motor cars would have to be sold to pay for these festivals, until a less-innocent someone pointed out that I was eating at the expense of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
It may be that I am ungrateful, and that these invitations are sent to us in an honest attempt to repay past “services rendered” to the industry by the writing fraternity. Perhaps, every year at Show-time, those who in (or, rather, who assemble) the cars about which we write remember that, like a good salesman, a good motoring journalist may sell, with a well-composed write-up, one, ten, or a hundred cars, but that, unlike, the salesman, the writer receives no commission on such sales, so that at least he is owed food and wine. If this is the case I can only envy my colleagues who seem able to eat-and-enjoy and who can apparently imbibe without anxiety. I am less well designed and have a distinct preference, if not for “roast beef and two veg.,” at all events for plain food, so that sometimes, sadly, I think it is I who should be recompensed for attending these functions!
Incidentally, for the benefit of those persons who think that the life of a motoring writer is one long drive in beautiful, borrowed motor cars, very sleek and overflowing with petrol, may I emphasise, before we leave this subject, that the usual test-period is a long week-end, at the conclusion of which the scribe is expected to compile a painstaking piece of road-test prose which, apart from any sales which may result, is often worth something like £150/£200 in equivalent advertisement space. Very seldom, in my experience, are test cars available for longer than a week, nor can the journalist usually command borrowed cars as and when he wishes; although one firm stands out, in my experience, as particularly generous and I refrain from naming it only to spare the blushes of its popular publicity manager.
The fact is that sometime, somewhere, some bright boy of a P.R.O. thought what a good idea it would be to “feed the brutes” before they set chisels to slabs on his behalf — and the tradition has persisted. It is really a jolly good and comfortable tradition so long as it doesn’t influence the guests to write in a biased manner.
A third reason for ignoring the Motor Show would be because glistening new models displayed on rotating turntables or standing floodlit on velvet flanked by expensive flowers (replaced nightly, after the visitors have gone, by expensive young ladies from expensive florists), are not necessarily the same when they have to cope with the parry and thrust of home-going traffic, are asked to hurry along England’s rolling roads or to soar up hills of the kind which constituted a romping ground for Leslie Housfield’s stuttering Trojans in the gay ‘twenties.
Motor cars are unnatural in a motor show, for all the convenience and sociability and quick comparisons which such an exhibition affords. As I elbowed my way towards a popular Earls Court exhibit I was reminded forcibly that the true purpose of a motor car is to bestow freedom on its owner — employees of London Transport did their best to emphasise this by a well-timed ‘bus strike just before this year’s Motor Show!
Our children may, alas, live to see an England in which motoring is undertaken entirely in “built-up areas,” judging by the manner in which the countryside is being steadily submerged by factories, houses, islands, roundabouts, kerb-stones and other “civilised” erections in great and growing profusion. Trees and hedges are in danger of being bulldozed out of existence, until England becomes a country sans countryside, town linked to town by straggling suburbs and sub-towns, every available “area” built up.
Between the World Wars (how long shall I be able to write that without need for additional elucidation?) we witnessed ribbon’ building alongside new arterial roads, so that ‘buses and tradesmen’s vehicles were obliged to run haltingly amongst the fast traffic, cycle paths and pedestrian-bridges had to be provided (the latter since replaced, at more expense to the rate-payers, by less-conspicuous subways), and the accident-potential raised. Who knows, then, what lies in store for the rising generation of would-be motorists who clustered eagerly round the 100-m.p.h. motor cars at Earls Court? At least, if the worst happens, the Continent, which more and more people already visit each year, will offer the desired freedom . . .
To my way of thinking, motoring is only worth while if there are suitable roads to drive over, and from the confines of the London Motor Show I found myself thinking nostalgically of touching “the century” across Salisbury Plain, of exploring remote parts of Wales and Scotland, of fast runs over the undulating roads that cross the downs near Newbury, or even of the pleasure of negotiating in a vintage car that deserted route, with its 1-in-8 hill, which crosses the Chilterns between sleepy Watlington and the riverside town of Henley-on-Thames.
All I could manage while preparing the Show Review, which, in spite of everything, you are going to get, was a walk on the local common — where some of the open space has been lost and the rest uglified by a gas-turbine factory set behind high wire-mesh fences so that it is difficult to decide who are the better off animals in this particular zoo, the well-paid workers on the inside of the wire or the heavily-taxed citizens without.
Meanwhile, roads still exist on which fast motoring can be enjoyed, good cars are available to drive over them, and at Earls Court you could at least meet your friends, dodge your enemies, compare directly the technicalities of one vehicle with those of another, and grind down one’s legs in the Gallery — where all the components of the cars in the display below were set out separately, exposed and unashamed.
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The trend of design shows a marked emphasis on cars, even in closed form, which are capable of around 100 m.p.h., and no self-respecting sports car can afford these days not to exceed the “century” by at least 5 m.p.h.
There is still divided opinion about valve gears and combustion chamber formation, single and twin-overhead camshafts, vertical and transverse push-rod actuation of o.h.v., and inlet valves imposed upon exhaust valves as a flashback to the G.N.s and Lagondas of pre-World War I days, being found on high-performance cars.
Chassis frames have to be rigid and chassisless construction is found even for quality cars, while de Dion rear suspension is gaining in popularity, Lancia having abandoned swing-axles for this system on their Aurelia, so that one wonders whether Mercédès-Benz will not be forced to go over to it.
Roads in this Island are notoriously rough off the “A” highways and hard suspension, as favoured by H.R.G. and Morgan, can slow rather than enhance speed, and, pleasant as a complete absence of roll when cornering can be, stiff springs have their future very much behind them.
Automatic transmission shouldn’t appeal to sports-car drivers, yet will probably be considered a “must” for roadster-type sports cars by next year or the year after — Chevrolet decided it was essential to the success of their open Corvette. Citroën and Renault, on 2 c.v. and 4 c.v. models respectively, have introduced automatic clutches of differing types and it is logical enough, for the less expensive the automobile the more likely is it to represent many people’s first car and thus the novice represents a high proportion of the purchasers and needs easy-driving aids far more than the merely lazy, experienced purchaser of cars in the higher-price brackets. Lanchester, in the latter class, has automatic transmission in the new 1.6-litre Sprite model, without recourse, as for many years past, to a Daimler fluid flywheel. For those unable to make up their minds, Armstrong-Siddeley thoughtfully offer the Sapphire with all-synchromesh gearbox, electrically-controlled preselector box or full automatic transmission. Nothing, surely, beats a good remote-control lever, as arranged by Alvis, Morgan, M.G.. Jaguar, Triumph, Doretti, Austin-Healey 100S, Kieft and a few others!
In many cases increased performance has been obtained by an increase in engine size, as, for example, the increase from 2.6 to 3 litres for Aston Martin and Lagonda, an enlargement by three decimal points of the litreage of the Bentley, and a bigger engine for the Rover 75, the last-named probably introduced to enable it and the “90” to share the same cylinder block. On the other hand, as if to emphasise the current rise of living-costs, Daimler seems to have discarded the 5 1/2-litre straight-eight which we lauded last month, in favour of the new 3.5 and 4.6-litre Regency cars, while Jaguar, Sunbeam and Allard pursue the policy of extracting more power from existing engines, let us admit in widely-varying degree!
Glass-fibre hard-tops offer a new solution to the winter-weather problems of sports-car motoring, although decades ago Lancia anticipated this trend towards a detachable roof in the Lambda saloon/torpedo, the entire upper half of which could be left at home during the summer season — and was invariably discovered full of old books, discarded dusters, the dog’s bones and general rubbish when winter came. With box-like houses, the flat-habit and tiny motor-sheds (I refuse to call them “garages”) the problem may be where to stow the hard-top. Perhaps one will become accustomed to renting a separate lock-up during the summer for it, or of persuading the landlady to keep it in the bathroom airing cupboard …
Petrol-injection and disc brakes remain a dream of the future for normal production cars, although Mercédès -Benz have solved all difficulties with the former, using direct-fuel-injection on the 300SL, while that business-genius Donald Healey provides Dunlop disc brakes on his new Hundred-S sports model as does Jaguar on the D-type.
The Bristol people wisely continue to believe that a good 2-litre is sufficient for connoisseurs who know how to drive, and retain this remarkable German-based engine in spite of the full passenger accommodation offered by the new Type 405.
We were disappointed not to see the new small Jensen gran turismo, a sort of baby 541 with Austin A40 engine, at Earls Court; apparently it has been shelved because the West Bromwich factory is too fully occupied making bodies for the Austin-Healey. Another disappointment was the non-appearance of anything new by M.G., so that the TF Midget, like the Morgan Plus Four and Singer Roadster, represent rather forlorn cars, product of design-staffs who persist in linking 1954 with 1934, so far as appearance is concerned. The Nuffield Organisation has been toying with an all-enveloping M.G. Midget open two-seater but it was not at Earls Court.
That Jaguar lists the D-type competition model as a production car must be exceedingly stimulating to all of us.
The Sunbeam-Talbot of last year is the Sunbeam of this, which as its background is more Commer than Coatalen, seems curious.
Utility or shooting-brake bodies are now the vogue, and very useful too. Rootes seem to have secured this market with their Hillman Husky, which undercuts the Morris Minor Traveller’s Car by nearly £35; the Minor may handle better but users of utilities probably fail to appreciate the genius of designer Issigonnis and the Husky’s bigger engine cannot fail to provide better performance. Indeed, costing a mere £4 1/2 more than the new Austin A30 Countryman, the Husky can hardly fail to be a winner amongst utilities. Incidentally, it is priced over £100 lower than the Hillman Minx saloon and over £200 lower than the Minx Estate car.
Vauxhall meet Ford’s Zodiac with their new “all-on” Crests and beat Dagenham slightly in the important matter of purchase price.
Some there may be who will look askance at the increasing speeds of sports cars in this age of road fatalities and congestion but it is well to remember that modern manufacturers are meeting high maximum velocities with better retardation and roadholding. Mercédès -Benz have very powerful hydraulic brakes with vacuum-servo on the 300SL, Austin-Healey have introduced Dunlop disc brakes on the new Hundred-S, and Jaguar have 12-in. Lockheed brakes on the new XK140 and in addition have altered the weight distribution and stiffened the (torsion-bar) i.f.s. to promote greater understeer and have adopted rack-and-pinion steering while they have Dunlop disc brakes on the 170 m.p.h. D-type. It could be that the 160-m.p.h. 300SL of 1954 is no more lethal than the 80-m.p.h. 30/98 of 1914, remembering the latter’s back brakes, high flexing chassis and narrow-section high-pressure tyres. In any case, accidents are invariably the result of inadequate roads and “cockpit-error” (as they say in the R.A.F.) and not of chassis shortcomings or mechanical breakage on the part of high-speed vehicles.
The Motor Show was opened officially at 12 noon on October 20th by Field-Marshal the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, K.G., G.C.B., D.S.O. A very considerable crowd had assembled already, but loud-speaker reception of the opening speech about the hall was not good, so that restlessness was evident during it.
Let us now look at the more interesting exhibits not covered in our Paris Salon report.
A.C. created great enthusiasm by reason of the pretty Aceca coupé on their Ace chassis. Built of light alloy on an ash frame by A.C. themselves, this two-seater is of striking appearance, enhanced by the 7 ft. 6 in. wheelbase chassis. The tail sloping over the commodious boot incorporates a large rear window, offering a sense of spaciousness to the interior. The Ace has the timeless A.C. 2-litre six-cylinder engine, now with six separate free-flow exhaust pipes running into two pipe, and triple S.U. carburetters. The central short gear-lever is cranked, the horizontal central hand-brake would not disgrace a 10-ton lorry and on the coupé the gearbox tunnel is hidden by a vertical bulkhead. A passer-by was troubled by the absence of rear bumper on the pretty but vulnerable Aceca coupé, the price of which is £1,722 7s. 6d. with p.t.
Allard showed the inevitable Monte Carlo saloon, with Ford V8 engine and de Dion back-axle, and a slightly restyled Zodiac-powered Palm Beach open three-seater, backed by a Zephyr-engined two-seater coupé with a very smooth, stylish and beautifully-finished body by Abbott of Farnham. The air intake contains the lamps, providing smoother wing contours than those of the Palm Beach. We believe this Allard was built some time ago as a whim of a director of Abbott’s and will become a production line if there is sufficient demand. Unfortunately, although panelled, by hand, in light alloy, the weight is somewhat excessive at 19 1/2 cwt.
Alvis showed their beautiful TC21/100 Grey Lady saloons and a Tickford d.h. coupé on the same chassis. A new exhaust system and detail changes have increased b.h.p. by four. Centre-lock wire wheels grace these fine cars of 12/50 ancestry.
Armstrong-Siddeley had better-equipped Sapphires with much-needed braking improvements, the anchorage of these fast-cruising, “unburstable” cars now being by Girling Autostatic 2TS brakes with drum diameter increased by an inch and Clayton-Dewandre vacuum-servo actuation.
Aston Martin drew the enthusiasts, for besides the very desirable DB2/4 cars, the increased weight of the 2/4-seater body offset by an increase in engine size from 2.5 to 2.9 litres (140 b.h.p.), the competition de Dion DB3S two-seater, giving 180 b.h.p., is now an over-the-counter job, priced, with p.t., at £3,684 9s. 2d.
Austin-Healey had an attractive Stand, with normal 100 two-seater and plastic hard-top coupé models backed up by the new 100S competition two-seater and the streamlined supercharged coupé which holds International Class D short-distance records at speeds of up to 102.6 m.p.h. The 100S has the 2.6-litre Austin A90 engine modified to give 132 b.h.p. (instead of 90) at 4,700 r.p.m. on a compression-ratio of 8.3 to 1, with light-alloy head. The specification includes David Brown close-ratio gearbox (8.98, 5.57, 3.88 and 2.92 to 1), light-alloy version or the well-known two-seater body and 11 1/2 in. Dunlop disc brakes. The car shown was gaily coloure, had racing-type bucket seats and centre-lock wire wheels, the last-named perhaps better changed for discs to obviate the possibility of stones lodging against the disc brakes. The basic price of this new model is £1,250 (it is for export only) which sounds highly competitive compared with £2,600 for the Aston Martin DB3S and £1,895 for the D-type Jaguar, and £2,715 for the Porsche Spyder.
Bentley showed two sports saloons, one by James Young, and the Continental saloon and d.h. coupé, the latter model with the bore of the i.o.e. engine enlarged by 3 mm. to give a capacity of 4,850 c.c. Modest compression-ratios are featured on this and the 4,556-c.c. B7 engines. I couldn’t help feeling that the two-pedal Bentley is a far cry from “W.O.’s” conception of a sports car in 1918/19!
Citroen showed the only true people’s car in the Show, in the form of the 2c.v., on show as a saloon and a chassis, and the remainder of their sensible age-less cars, Light Fifteen, Big Fifteen and Six, were displayed with no unnecessary ostentation or stunt attractions, yet still drew admiring crowds. The new 2c.v. centrifugal clutch and pneumatic suspension for the Six were not exhibited.
Fiat had an 1,100TV saloon on their Stand, its normal bench-seat interior belying its fine performance; indeed, only the name on the body suggests that this is such a little “goer” — the price is £1,063 12s. 6d., with p.t. and heater, compared to £799 8s. 2d. for the normal new 1,100 saloon.
The British Ford Stand was a milling throng of people appreciative of Dagenham value-for-money and worldwide spares and service facilities. The Ford Popular is still the least expensive car in the Show, and were p.t. not imposed and pre-I939 values to prevail, it would sell for approximately £120, no mean achievement, for it is a reliable, rugged, lively Ten. The American Ford Stand had the sports V8 Thunderbird Special two-seater on show, a rival to the Chevrolet Corvette had one been at Earls Court.
Frazer-Nash showed their usual display of very genuine sports cars, in the form of a Mark II competition model, a Sebring all-enveloping two-seater, and a Le Mans fixed-head coupé, while the ex-O’Hara Moore/John Gott Alpine Rally Le Mans Replica car had a place of honour, Rally numbers on its flanks. On this Stand, too, were examples of the new 105 b.h.p. 2 1/2-litre V8 B.M.W. Type 502 saloons, a fast German car with the usual beautiful B.M.W. detail work and coachwork, although the price of £2,976 2s. 6d. rather takes the breath away, but is actually the same as that of the Bristol 403, while there appears to be more interior space in the German car.
Jaguar have sensibly retained existing models, but enhanced their power, the Mark VII Type M saloon and the XK140 sports models now developing 190 b.h.p. while retaining 3 1/2-litre engines. The XK140 fixed-head coupé now has room for two children or a dwarf behind the front seats and the d.h. coupé, which was a centre of attraction, also has occasional as well as main seats. The D-type competition model in Le Mans guise was perhaps the outstanding sports-car exhibit at Earls Court. With servo-assisted Dunlop disc brakes and all-enveloping body which is a single-seater until a flap is raised to disclose a compartment containing the handbrake and a second seat, this is the car which was clocked at nearly 173 m.p.h. at Sarthe this year. At a price of £2,685 14s. 2d., inclusive of p.t., the value is outstanding; there is, too, the consolation that those who can afford a D-type should also be able to afford a proper funeral. .. Obviously this Jaguar is intended only for experienced fast-car drivers and Mr. Lyons’ gesture in selling the car he races so effectively will be appreciated.
Fibre-glass construction and triple S.U. carburetters now feature on the beautiful Jensen 541 saloon and we await anxiously performance figures for this year-old 4-litre high-performance car.
The presence of Kieft at Earls Court was a worthwhile blast of fresh air blowing amongst the tin and chromium. This enthusiastic Wolverhampton firm showed a glass-fibre all-enveloping Kieft 1,100 open two-seater with the o.h.c. 72-b.h.p. 1,098-c.c. Coventry Climax light-alloy-block engine and all-round independent suspension — Britain’s only 1,100-c.c. sports-car (it costs £1,569 9s. 2d., inclusive) — and the Kieft of this type which won Class G of the T.T. A speed of 115 m.p.h plus is claimed. We liked the short gear-lever for the separate gearbox, the oil cooler before the water radiator, and the licence on the dash as proof this is a road car. Also shown was the Kieft/Norton air-cooled flat-four 1 1/2-litre engine which gives over 100 b.h.p.
The Mercédès-Benz exhibits have been adequately dealt with elsewhere in this issue; let me add that the 300SL uses a Bosch fuel-injection pump, vacuum-servo brake actuation of Mercédès -Benz make (they call it the “intensifier”) and I.h. steering because the inclined six-cylinder engine makes the thought of r.h. steering rather troublesome!
There is nothing fresh on the M.G. stand. In view of their Mr. Bishop’s recent eulogy of the weekly motoring Press we wonder why the M.G. Magnette still doesn’t seem to have been submitted for road-test to the two leading weeklies. Morgan also eschewed change for change’s sake, but had a new 2/4-seater convertible body.
The Porsche exhibit included the 140/150 m.p.h. Spyder 100 b.h.p. Typo 550 competition car, backed up by fixed-head and convertible examples of the 55 b.h.p. Type 356 and a 112 m.p.h. Type 356 Super fixed-head coupé with the 70 b.h.p. roller-bearing engine.
Alpine Rally successes were emphasised on the Sunbeam stand, where an Alpine roadster was proudly standing on a raised padded platform. The Mark III engine provides three more horse-power than the former “90” unit, and the sports saloon and Thrupp and Maberley d.h. coupé are compact cars of considerable performance.
On a rotating dais the Swallow Doretti displayed its high-gloss finish, to achieve which special paint plant has been installed at the Walsall factory. A ticket beside the car modestly proclaimed “100 m.p.h.” — modestly in an age when so many saloons are supposed to exceed this speed.
The Volkswagens were displayed modestly, along with a Microbus, but the very fine finish, growing reputation and immunity from frost-damage drew continual streams of admirers.
That sums up the 1954 Earls Court Motor Show from the viewpoint of the enthusiast and the discerning motorist. That racing-car exhibits were banned was a pity; one of the first enquiries we received at the Motor Sport stand was where such could be seen! Apart from the aforementioned record-breaking Austin-Healey, Alpine Rally Frazer-Nash, and T.T. Kieft, the non-production exhibits were confined to the Hudson Italia two-door sports coupé with a beautifully-finished Carrozzeria touring body on the 114 b.h.p. Jet chassis.
There is a general emphasis on efficiency in engine design, with compression-ratios climbing to benefit from grade one petrols, and oil-coolers assisting the latest in lubricating oils in high-output engines. Side valves receive a new death-blow (sentimentally, alas) with the o.h.v. Mark VIII Hillman Minx engine, being retained by Hillman only for the Minx Special saloon, estate car and Husky. Glass-fibre presses on, slowly but surely. — W.B.
All-white (Bristol) and black and white (Austin) were popular Show finishes — but how impractical on the road! The Bristol’s wore spot-lamps recessed in the air intakes.
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Various stunts were as usual in evidence. Hillman had a rotating exhibit surrounded by telephones in which you could hear the Ben Lyon and Bebe Daniels family of B.B.C. fame telling themselves just what a fine car the Minx is. The Husky utility had a series of inflatable figures so that it appeared, alternately, empty, occupied by two men, by two men and two girls, and by two men and piles of luggage. Someone remarked, as the occupants sagged out of sight, that their short drive had made them unduly weary, while certainly the girls looked absolutely ghastly. M.G. had a screen with a TF Midget chassis on one side and a complete two-seater on the other, the effect being to silhouette the body on the chassis when viewed from the chassis side. Riley had an inclined, stripped chassis of the Pathfinder and there was a Hillman, the engine of which flew upwards through the bonnet.
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There seemed something sinister about Stand No. 161, where one of the partners, well known for many years, had been disposed of.
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Austin reintroduced the A90, as a six-cylinder 85 b.h.p. Westminster saloon.
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There were some new air-intake grilles at Earls Court, of which Austin covered theirs with wire mesh and Vauxhall with some new dentures.
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The two most covetable cars at the Show? Perhaps the 1,300-c.c. Alfa-Romeo Giulietta Sprint and the 2.5-litre Lancia Aurelia Gran Turisrno.
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As usual the Motor Boat exhibits were a strong attraction and prices seemed exceedingly modest. For example, Fenn & Wood, Ltd., showed their Meteor Sportsman four-seater two-cockpit launch, capable of over 30 m.p.h. with inboard Ford Anglia engine. The price is £400 inclusive. As in the motoring world a light-alloy head and two carburetters can be supplied if required; or, at the other end of the scale, a 4-h.p. Stuart Turner engine can be supplied, when, as the Meteor Cub, the boat is especially suited to river and inland waterways.
Air-cooling was featured by VW, Porsche, Citroën, Dyna-Panhard and the 105-b.h.p. Kieft fiat-four competition engine.
Lowest-priced car at Earls Court, the £275 Ford Popular; most costly production model, the Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith Mulliner touring limousine, at £4,965 (£7,034 17s. 6d. with the Chancellor’s rake-off).
Utility or estate cars were shown by Fiat (500C Belvedere), Hillman (Husky and Minx), Morris (Minor Traveller’s Car), Peugeot, Skoda and Standard, prices ranging from £564 19s. 2d. inclusive of p.t. for the Hillman Husky to £1,129 9s. 2d. (mit p.t.) for the capacious Peugeot 203.