An Enthusiastic Visit to the Paris Motor Show



Having just left the Montlhèry track, my thoughts were still on high performance, speed and exciting motor cars, and immediately after churning through the turnstiles leading into the Grand Palais, off the Champs Elysees, where the 41st Motor Exhibition was being held, I came face to tail with one of the prettiest rear ends seen for a long time. It belonged to the exciting little Alfa-Romeo Giulietta Sprint, a 1,300-c.c. four-cylinder model with twin overhead camshafts, Solex carburetter and Lucas electrics, coil-spring i.f.s., a rigid rear axle, also sprung on coil-springs and located by torque-rods, and fitted with a very sleek two-seater body, with a surprising amount of luggage room behind the seats. Naturally it had a steering-column gear-change and a very clear front floor, as with all modern sporting coupés these days, but the bucket seats and driving position invited rapid cornering, obviously baying been designed by people who understand about fast motoring. In standard form the 74 by 75-mm-1,290-c.c.-engine was claimed to give 65 b.h.p. at 6,000 r.p.m. and, looking at the general proportions of the car, the claimed 100-m.p.h. maximum did not seem unreasonable, while the enormous turbo-finned brakes looked good enough for a Grand Prix car. Already in production, the Giulietta Sprint should be appearing on the Italian roads early next year and no doubt the Mille Miglia will see their competition debut in the Gran Turismo category. It is intended in the spring to produce a four-seater saloon on the same chassis which will be a serious rival for the well-established Fiat 1,100. When Alfa-Romeo recommenced serious production a few years ago, concentrating on the 1,900 saloon, it seemed that they had lost their sporting instincts, but the four models exhibited showed definite signs of a full return to exciting motor cars. Besides the Giulietta Sprint there was a 1,900C Super Sprint, with body by Carrozzeria Touring, a close-coupled on the short-chassis version of the 1,900 saloon, fitted with wire wheels of the knock-off pattern, new enlarged brakes, and with the four-cylinder twin overhead-camshaft engine enlarged to 1,975 c.c., giving 115 b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m., using two double-choke Solex carburetters. The 5/6-seater saloon 1,900, now known as the 1,900 Super, has the same mechanical parts as the Super Sprint but with a slightly detuned engine giving 90 b.h.p., which is quite a lot for a family saloon of 2 litres. The fourth model of the Alfa-Romeo range was the normal 1,900 T.1. saloon that has been doing so well in rally events during the past season.

Still with the Italian idea of real motoring pulsing through my veins I crossed to the Maserati stand, where, typical of the Maserati organisation this season, a man was busy finishing off the stand decorations even though the Show had been open for three days. Spaciously displayed were three cars in bright red that would make the most blasé enthusiast sag at the knees. On the left was a two-seater A6GCS sports model exactly as raced by numerous Continental drivers, with no fancy Motor Show frills, just stark reality, while on the right was a similar chassis fitted with a Pinin Farina body, again purely functional and looking as though it was on the starting line at Le Mans. In the centre was a 250/F.1 single-seater; the latest to be built and due to be driven at Barcelona by Harry Schell. It was brand new and had obviously not been run at all, and it was interesting to see that the gaggle of oil pipes from the rear-mounted tank had been cleaned up considerably since the Monza race, the delivery and return pipes now being in a neat conduit that passes through the base of the riveted aluminium fuel tank. Nicely spaced out with lists of successes in both racing and sports categories, the Maserati exhibits were pur sang personified. On the way across to the Lancia stand I passed a diminutive red Nardi sports model, with body lines similar to a D.type Jaguar and fitted with a tuned Crosley “Hot-Shot” engine, it appearing to be the actual car that competed at Le Mans this year. Distinctly a “toy,” but nevertheless a very interesting little toy. Lancia’s were sitting contentedly amongst an unchanged array of cars comprising the Appia, Aurelia and Aurelia Gran Turismo, the last-named now with de Dion rear end as standard, as is the 2½-litre engine. The de Dion layout utilises leaf-springs with the de Dion tube located by a Panhard rod, and if Mr. Ford had produced such a thing we should have said it would not work and looked crude anyway. On the Lancia it looks crude but apparently does work, but Mr. Lancia has always made impossible things that do work, so we must accept it.

Not far from Lancia was B.M.W., now with an entirely new car comprising the chassis frame that appeared at Earls Court last year fitted with the new and compact 2½-litre V8 engine, there being very little of a sporting character about the whole car except past glories and memories of the Type 328. Carrying on the Munich sporting tradition was Bristol, their most imposing array comprising the proven 403 saloon, the short 404 , a left-hand drive Bristol-Arnolt and the new long 405 saloon, that looks as though it might bend in the middle at first glance, it being so low and long. The Arnolt-Bristol was interesting, being a light but well-equipped two-seater with body by Bertone of Italy, to a specification by Arnolt of America, and mechanical components supplied by Bristol. Altogether a rather pleasing collection of ideas, the result being a sports Bristol 2-litre.

The Talbot stand did not look very interesting at first, the cars being rather over-bodied s that looked ungainly, but in the centre of the stand was one of the new 2½-litre engines. This was distinctly interesting, being a four-cylinder version of the old 4½-litre Grand Prix engine, having 90-deg. inclined valves operated by pushrods and rockers from two camshafts set high in the crankcase. Unusual for Talbot, this engine had a normal four-speed synchromesh gearbox mounted in unit with it, and the complete power plant looked remarkably neat and tidy. With a bore and stroke of 89.5 by 99 mm and running at 5,100 r.p.m., a very conservative 120 b.h.p. was claimed, it being a sporting engine rather than a racing engine, and as shown it was fitted with two double-choke Weber carburetters. Still in the semi-experimental stage, this engine is not expected to be available until next spring, but if it is going to be fitted to the sports Simca, as has been suggested, then a rather nice road car should result. Apparently growing out of a bed of flowers was a works D-type Jaguar, looking just as efficient and sleek on the Show stand as it did at Le Mans and, now that it is to be put into small-scale production for sale to “special people” (Ecurie Ecosse perhaps!), the Jaguar firm have not only honoured their Le Mans obligations, which few competitors do, but give the complete answer to Donald Healey’s nonsensical harangue earlier this season. Next door to Jaguars and displayed in a rather exaggerated manner was a 300SL Mercédès-Benz fitted with fuel-injection as standard and available in France for £5,000. In all major respects identical with the cars raced by Mercédès-Benz, the 300SL was given a slightly more saleable look by having more detail finish to the bodywork. It was displayed in a place of honour on the Mercédès-Benz stand brilliantly illuminated and surrounded by chromium railings. This was seen on the Monday after the Show opened although the previous few days had seen a Grand Prix Type W196 racing car in the place of honour. The rest of the Unter-turkheim exhibits were the more staid family saloons, the 300 model still looking the same, though now with a body-cum- chassis construction, and appearing very dignified beside the more pressed-tin smaller models. A short step across the gangway brought me to the Porsche stand, on which stood a production Type 550 two-seater finished in blue and red, having the four-camshaft engine, knock-off hubs and disc wheels, the most complete undertray that could be desired and fitted with the latest-pattern Dunlop racing tyres. The car was mounted on a portion of concrete banking, allowing viewers to see into the cockpit with ease. Two standard Porsches were also on view, a 1,500 drophead and a 1,500 Super of the more popular fixed-head type. As production of the normal Porsches is still only a handful per week it is unlikely that the 550 will be appearing much before the spring in any numbers, but production is guaranteed and orders were being taken on the stand.

Tucked away against the wall was the Gordini stand and, as with Maserati, it was an enthusiast’s delight, being purely functional. Two cars were exhibited, the 2½-litre six-cylinder sports car that Pollet and Gauthier used to win the recent Tour of France and alongside stood Gordini’s latest Formula 1 car. At the time of writing this single-seater had not been run but it looks promising for the future if Gordini can find any drivers and continue to raise sufficient money to go on racing. In general principles the 1955 single-seater is like the well-known cars he has been using this season but the whole build has been lowered considerably. The engine is now fitted with a new type of cylinder head having two overhead camshafts operating directly on the ends of the valves instead of through short rockers as in the past, while the five-speed gearbox has been redesigned so that the fifth speed is an extra one at the top of the range rather than a low bottom gear as this year’s cars have had. The rear suspension arms are now welded box-members in place of the old type of forging, and look as though they will position the rear axle in a more substantial manner. Disc brakes are fitted on all four wheels and are unusual in having braking pads placed diametrically opposite instead of having them grouped at one point on the main disc. As Gordini does not seem very inclined to sell any of his cars, his stand at the Paris Motor Show seems rather pointless, but at least it gives the racing enthusiast an opportunity to inspect the cars at close quarters instead of from the wrong side of the fence.

The Paris Motor Show is always famous for its oddities and its special bodywork in all degrees from the vulgar to the bizarre and, while struggling through the crowds from one exciting car to another, I was occasionally confronted by ghastly yellow, pink or blue creations that will never come under the heading of “motoring ” however far the imagination is stretched. In passing it was interesting that the stands containing normal American saloons were the easiest to cross, there being very little French interest in such large vehicles, while on no occasion could I get within touching distance of the little Italian Isetta 250-c.c. run-about, for it seemed to have captured the French imagination in a big way. The Ferrari stand was most disappointing, there being only two cars displayed and neither were in the sporting tradition as Ferrari builds his cars normally. There was a 4½-litre on the 375 Mexico chassis fitted with an extremely sleek grey body by Pinin-Farina that was a nice Show exhibit but a bit too long in the bonnet to be wholly attractive, and there was a 3-litre 12-cylinder Europa model with a more normal Farina coupé body. I had rather hoped to see a 500 Mondial sports car, now that it is a production car, but it seems that the Ferrari concern that we know in racing circles has a different outlook from the Ferrari concern that deals with Motor Shows. Behind their stand, however, there was a racing car, it being a supercharged 750-c.c. D.B., in general shape looking like an enlarged Monomill racer but being better finished and having large ribbed brakes and knock-off wire wheels. It is really in the form of an experiment, but as a 750-c.c. supercharged car it must be considered as a current Formula 1 car and while not of Grand Prix standard it might be quite handy on a small Formula 1 circuit such as Pau or Aix-les-Bains. The engine was normal D.B. Panhard flat-twin fitted with a belt-driven double-rotor supercharger, the power unit being in front of the front wheels and driving them through a normal D.B. gearbox. Not far, away was another racing car of great interest for it was a 1906 Grand Prix Fiat. It was a vast four-cylinder of 18 litres capacity and looked to be beautifully preserved and entirely original, and was claimed to be the actual car that Nazzaro used to win the French Grand Prix of 1907 at Dieppe. The amount of interest it was attracting was quite surprising and it was not the hysterical cackling of the masses that so often accompanies historical cars in England these days, but amazed appreciation of the mechanical aspects of this Fiat of the past. On the opposite side of the main hall to this glimpse of the past was a view of the future in the shape of the General Motors experimental turbine-engined projectile, the Firebird. Mounted on a revolving dais, it looked most impressive but was really little more than a Delta-wing aircraft on wheels, while the front suspension and running gear looked so flimsy that it was nice to know that the vehicle was intended for straight-line running only. The crowds being rather thick around the turntable, I climbed up the stairs to the second balcony and had a far better view of this exhibit, which, while being at the moment in the realms of fantasy, was a rather fine tribute to American coachbuilders for sleekness of line and finish.

Having seen the General Motors Firebird turbine car I felt sure that Fiat would be showing their beautiful little red and white coupé turbine car, but all a visit to the Fiat stand revealed were the rather ungainly-looking 1,400 and 1,900 saloons, the compact 1,100 and a scale model of the turbine car. Passing on to Rover’s I could not even see mention of a turbine car existing, so it would seem that such propulsion has a long way to go before the public are to be allowed in on it.

On the way down the main hall again I found the funny little 750-c.c. Moretti coupé, an example of which had been competing at Montlhèry the previous day. In addition there was a much nicer looking 1,200-c.c. version with a coupé body, both cars being four-cylinder twin-overhead camshaft models with very light tubular chassis. In Italy there are numerous builders of these little limited production “specials,” such as Stanguellini, Bandini, Giannini and Ermini, but Moretti are the only ones who managed to get out of their own country. Transferred on the back window of the 1,200 Moretti was a rather delightful notice saying, in French, “En Bondage” and underneath, in English, “Grinding of the Cylinders,” which is one way of looking at running-in.

Still very much a national affair, Pegaso were showing two coupés on their usual chassis, there being no major changes since the car first stirred the sporting world some years ago. No doubt coupled with politics and higher finance is the reason that the Pegaso car has still not appeared in any numbers in Europe, though it would seem that they monopolise Spanish national sporting events. In order to show more clearly the interesting mechanical details of this V8-engined, de Dion-rear-axled car whose specification is of Grand Prix standards, a third car was on the Show stand, raised on a platform and fitted with a coupé body made of Perspex. Not only was this exhibit a masterpiece of the Perspex moulders’ art but the silhouette it formed looked much nicer than the metal-bodied coupé alongside, which was obviously made on the same mould. It is strange that all Pegaso attempts at competition outside their own country have been pretty mediocre, yet the stand was covered in photographs of competition successes achieved in Spain! Across the aisle from Pegaso was a small stand belonging to Ghia, the Italian coachbuilders, and they were exhibiting a rather overdone coupé on an Alfa-Romeo Sprint chassis that was not so nice to look upon as the more standard model on the Alfa-Romeo stand. The other Ghia body was a very smooth coupé on an XK120 Jaguar chassis, with wire wheels; this was modelled on the lines of the very beautiful red coupé 8V Fiat that was shown last year, enlarged now to cover the 3 ½-litre Jaguar and as an “attractor” model it really was most covetous. The chief rival to Ghia, for elegance is Pinin Farina and on his stand were three Italian cars fitted with bodywork designed by him. There was a 1,900 T.I. Alfa-Romeo, always a popular chassis with coachbuilders, that seemed an extravagant way of having a good family saloon, then there was a coupé body on a TV Fiat 1,100, the TV standing for Touring Veloce, and this was identical with models that have appeared in road-going events in Italy during the past season, but which have seemed a little overbodied when in competition with the normal 1,100 Fiat. The third Pinin-Farina exhibit was a Lancia Aurelia that was pure showmanship and no one in their right mind would contemplate such a vehicle while Lancia continue to offer the Gran Turismo Aurelia at a lower price. After a very full and tiring day at the Paris Motor Show there was no doubt that to anyone of an enthusiastic nature there was much to offer, not only from the point of view of available cars, but things to see under one roof that only a season of Continental and racing would otherwise make available. Normally, of the object of a Motor Show is to display to the general public goods that they can buy in the near future, to use themselves, I also think that it is a good thing if the public, general or can also see things they do not want to buy, or cannot buy, in which they are still interested. The rest of the Paris Motor Show consisted of the more sober and practical vehicles, such as Citroëns, Renaults, Peugeots, Hillmans, Austins and Morris, or the more de luxe productions like Jaguars, Bentleys, Lagondas or Rovers. Naturally all the English sporting vehicles were on show, the TF Midget, the TR2 Triumph, Austin-Healey, and DB2-4 Aston Martin, but they were all on view at Earls Court and will be dealt with elsewhere in Motor Sport. — D. S. J.