As a regular reader of this publication I wish to draw attention to what must be the finest example of journalistic bias and inaccuracy ever seen in motoring circles. On October 9th the Sunday Express published an article under the heading “British Cars Beat the Invader.” This, accompanied by a photograph of a Volkswagen, tried to show (apparently the author, Robert Glenton, thinks conclusively) that the VW is no match for British cars. Most of the points were very misleading half-truths with a few honest bits thrown in to restore the reader’s confidence. Let me quote :–
“I have just conducted an experiment with a new VW and a new British car which is nearest in its class — the Standard Super Ten.”
Who says so? and which class? R.A.C. rating? comfort? finish? what? for these don’t agree. The photograph has an arrow pointing to “Tricky Steering” which the text laughably describes as “very light, too light perhaps for the heavy hands of the family driver,” farther on the author complains of the one instrument only (the photo says none) on a VW and yet goes on to say:—
“The Standard, although not exactly bulging with dials, does tell you bow much fuel you have and whether your battery is charging.” If the author of the article looked at a Standard Ten he would find the same instruments minus the petrol gauge. I suppose it was just oversight that made him miss the foot-operated reserve tap on the VW, but on second thoughts it must be that his feet could not reach it since —
“When I was driving I had the seat back as far as it would go, my knees still loomed up near the wheel and the back seat passengers wriggled with discomfort after 10 minutes,”
He must have a family of giants since my height of 5 ft. 10½ in. requires the seat in its mid position where it gives me 1½ in. to spare when comfortably seated in the back with two others.
The article describes the engine as noisy and produces some figures for fuel consumption, speed, etc., which are intended to convince you that the VW is N.B.G., even allowing the journalistic “fiddle factor” which raises the Standard’s m.p.g. from 35 (as tested by the Motor) to 39, such articles as these do more harm than good because many people actually believe them.
The VW has many virtues and a few vices like other cars but I would rather have a few cost-saving virtues and put up with vices such as fixed rear-passenger windows. My only objection to the VW is that it is not a British car. If we are to have criticism of foreign cars, let it be honest criticism and not grossly unfair and inept.
I am, Yours, etc.,
A. C. Jesper.
So many readers have sent us clippings of Robert Glenton’s attack on the VW, published in the Sunday Express of October 9th, that we almost know the words by heart. Conscious that we devote a great deal of space to this excellent German car we intended to ignore the Glenton injustice, which he perpetrated under the heading “The VW is All the Rage but the ‘Family’ Market is Safe,” but the number of letters which we have received (one of which we publish on page 708 and another above) requesting us to reply has changed our mind, especially as a letter the Editor of Motor Sport addressed to the Sunday Express on the subject has not been published, although they did permit the Secretary of the V.W.O.C. to point to the “proof of the pudding” in that in the first six months of 1955 VW sold 13,117 cars to the U.S.A., Standard only 23.
Our readers look at Glenton’s article from two points of view. There are the VW enthusiasts who demand that his inaccurate statements be corrected and there are those who consider that the British Motor Industry has been insulted by this attempt to sell its products by unfair criticism of a German competitor. After claiming to have compared a VW with a Standard Super Ten, Glenton found that “the Volkswagen is not for our family garages.” He praises highly its suspension “that leaves our cart-springed cars out in the cold,” its finish “which we seem unable to imitate,” and its air cooling. Then he lashes his whip. The VW’s engine, according to Glenton, is noisy, its steering “too light perhaps for the heavy hands of the family driver,” the interior is cramped, and apparently you have no means of knowing how much fuel is in the tank or whether “the battery is charging.” The real sting of the attack lay in an accompanying photograph of a VW labelled “Passengers cramped,” “No instruments,” “Luggage for midgets” (indicating the bonnet), “Steering tricky,” “Windows (back) don’t open,” and “Noisy engine (at the back).”
We can only remark that on the Editorial VW there is a speedometer incorporating the usual warning lights, a convenient fuel-tap trapping 1.1 gallons in reserve, that luggage goes behind the back seat as well as in front, a total space found adequate when three people (one from Australia) travelled with luggage from Southampton Docks during the rail strike, that the steering is delightful, that engine noise doesn’t matter because the engine is at the back (how this noise myth arises is beyond us, unless faint fan and gear hum troubles sensitive ears), and that in so small and well ventilated a car you only need to open the back windows to be ill, which with VW suspension and no fumes shouldn’t arise — also that on our car the dynamo, not the battery, does the charging! The VW is not particularly roomy but is adequate for two adults and three children or three adults, and for 1956 the interior has been enlarged. It is certainly far less “tinny” than small British saloons, the doors closing in those “two stages” beloved of vintage addicts and being fully dust-sealed when shut. For other comparisons between VW and Standard, since admitted by a famous British driver to be honest, see page 607 last month.
Glenton uses a little table in which he shows the VW to cost £88 10s. 10d. more in this country than the Standard, to do 36 m.p.g. to the British baby’s 39 m.p.g., and 68 m.p.h. to its 70-72 rn.p.h. We got over 41 m.p.g. on long runs from a VW and haven’t tested the new Standard Super Ten but to be fair we publish our table hereafter, taking performance data (as it relates to the old VW and Standard Ten) from an independent technical source. Before concluding may we say that our continual reference to the VW, unliked in some circles, is dictated by correspondents’ interest in the car — before the war enthusiasts who couldn’t run sports cars turned to Continental small saloons because they handled well and were “different” and it seems today that the VW is popular with such owners for the same reason. It is a great pity Glenton has re-kindled the subject, because if we couldn’t use a VW as Editorial hack we would gladly use a Standard Ten. We like these cars — and to be forced to draw comparisons is unfortunate, if desirable in the pursuit of fair play. We see that a week later Robert Glenton had written “The Townsend Story” for the Sunday Express. We only hope, for the sake of Group-Capt. Peter Townsend and the Royal Princess, that this versatile journalist is more accurate in reporting a private love-affair than in comparing German with British family cars. While on this subject, we commiserate with Peter Townsend — to whom the best of good fortune — on being criticised by busybodies because he drives a Renault Frégate instead of a British car, when surely he has enough already with which to contend. — W. B.
Miscellany, October 2001
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