What Canada Wants
[This letter, written some months ago makes an interesting Show-time commentary on motoring in the Dominions. — Ed.]
I was particularly interested in the letters about the VW in the light of my own experience in this part of the world. This city has the second largest car population in relation to its size of all cities on the American continent. The motor car is strictly a means of transportation here and Le Sport is only beginning to awaken interest. Cars put up phenomenally large mileages (60,000 plus per annum is not remarkable) owing to the immense distances to be travelled in all directions. In the course of covering this distance in a single year the car will encounter every conceivable condition from 90/100 degrees of heat on prairie dirt roads to 90 degrees of frost in the icy Rocky Mountain passes, and the snow-bound Yukon and Alaska highways. Automobiles must earn their keep here and it is startling to see the large American car completely dominating the market as they can scarcely be classed as economy vehicles. I expected to find British cars in large numbers on my arrival here, but this is far from being the case. The reasons for this were not hard to find.
In the first place, they have failed ignominiously to achieve the mileages required of them with any degree of economy or reliability. Who can be expected to buy a medium or light British car with its 25,000 miles engine life, its 24 m.p.g. (let’s face it, these claims of 30 plus m.p.g. do not stand up under practical hard driving), its cramped space, short-lived suspension, and the unavailability of spares and service, when for $300 more they can buy a Ford or Chevvy, which will give 60,000 miles and 22 m.p.g.? The answer is in the used-car market, where year-old Fords sell for two-thirds of their original cost and year-old Austins (the only readily saleable British car here) are lucky to fetch half price. Of all the British cars which have sold here only two really survive, Austin and Hillman. The Morris dealer went bankrupt, the Standard dealer disappeared, the British Ford dealer is relinquishing his franchise. There are possibly a half-dozen T-type M.G.s in the province, one or two Jaguars, no Sapphires, a Humber or two, half a dozen Austin-Healeys, no TR2s — one could go on ad nauseam. The reason for this is the complete inabilityto absorb punishment of the smaller cars. The lack of interest in motor sport explains the paucity of other makes.
Against this dreary background the VW is starting its meteoric rise here as in other places. Here is a car of 1,192 C.C. which will run for 65,000 miles and more on one engine, which will give 38/40 m.p.g. under the most leaden foot; which soaks up washboard, mud-rotted, ice-packed roads at all speeds with stability and reliability; which has more actual luggage space than any of its British counterparts, and with “two-up” has as much as a Fleetwood Cadillac; which is superbly built and absolutely draughtproof; which has an integral six-outlet heater included in the list price — not an annoying extra; which is impervious to Arctic cold and desert heat alike; and, as new owners here are finding to their increasing delight and the total bewilderment of Buick and Olds. drivers, can stay with anything on the road and out-perform many big fellows on icy, twisty roads. A man in Dawson Creek who has driven from Edmonton on $9.35 worth of gas is amazed and impressed by the VW owner who left at the same time, arrived at. the same time, and only spent $3.50. The stories of VW owners are being greeted with the mild scepticism usually reserved for fishing tales, but the truth is gradually being accepted owing to the consistency of the various unrelated claims.
Eyebrows assume most unlikely angles and smiles are hardly concealed; but interest quickens when listeners hear of the blessed freedom from worry about anti-freeze: of two-quart sump capacity with its consequent economy of oil changes; of 350-mile fuel-tank range in this land of long journeys; of overdrive top gear; of extraordinary feats of traction on soapy-mud roads impassable to frontengined cars; of “rubber transmission” — their wide-eyed phrase to describe that superb gearbox; of independent torsion-bar suspension on “all four”; of the synonymity of “max.” and “cruising” speeds; of 50-minute engine changes (scheduled time); of long and even tyre wear; of 2¼ turns front lock to excellent lock which can be done with one finger when the car is stationary on dry concrete; of all the desirable features lacking in the Detroit armchairs. An amusing incident took place during the August rains which reduced unpaved highway to a soapy morass on which even a Murray or a Hardman would have trouble from a stop. One four-mile stretch of the popular Jasper highway was completely impassable; nose-heavy Detroit machinery and light British Cars were at a standstill at either end by the score; tractor owners were gleefully and profitably hauling them in each direction; their ignonainy was in no way lessened by the nonchalant supervision of a very mobile Alberta Motor Association scout — in a VW. The publicity value of this can well be imagined.
So the VW gains ground. These stories promote inquiries, the inquiries bring out the cheque-books, and off drives another unpaid but willing salesman, another ambassador. This goes on in the face of stiff consumer resistance — resistance based on previous bad experience, real and hearsay, of small cars. People who “don’t want to know” about small cars end up buying VWs and singing their praises to all and sundry. Nobody but an ostrich could fail to be impressed — if only by the sales graph of the VW wherever it has appeared.
This, sir, is no prejudiced partisan paean of praise. I have driven a Y-type M.G. in trials and found it a splendid machine; I have driven Morris, Citroën, Hillman, Velox, Fiat, and the new Ford Anglia in rallies and trials with great personal satisfaction. Were I still at home I would probably continue to use an Anglia for competition work because of its slight edge over the VW in performance due to its three-speed box with handy first/reverse changes. I do not yet own a car here but when I do it will most assuredly be a VW. I did a “Monte” in one and the recollection of that alone, without any of the other perfectly obvious reasons, is enough to convince me that there is nothing to touch it on thess roads in this climate. An 800/1,000-mile solo run, virtually non-stop, is nothing to write home about here even when done on icy roads in ‘way sub-zero temperatures. I can think of no less tiring car for such motoring than the now ubiquitous VW.
The alchemists who seek to transmute sterling automobiles into dollar balances would do well to gain some practical experience of the conditions under which their catalysts are expected to operate. Neither faith nor hope are adequate touchstones for victory in the grins struggle for success in automobile sales. There is — repeat is — a potential large market on this continent for a good small car, and the VW is the only make which is making any serious impression on it. There is plenty of room for competition but it will have to be rugged. It would have to have eye-appeal to begin to eat into the VW‘s preserves, and that appeal would have to be backed up by the same incredible durability and toughness of the VW. It must give 40 m.p.g., 70 m.p.h., superb roadholding, low engine wear, long life, good luggage space, easy maintenance with economy, first-class service facilities — but there I go, describing the VW again! If it has all this and eye-appeal, which is the only thing the VW lacks, then it can devoutly hope for success in this market. In the meantime the slavish scaled-down imitations of Detroit which emanate from Dagenham, Longbridge and Oxford might just as well save the expense of transportation to these parts. VW has only been on sale here for a little over a year and by the end of 1955 it will likely be outselling all British cars together in this Dominion.
Those who accuse you of partisanship for your excellent review of the VW can only be doing so from an ostrich-like though admirable patriotism. Such faith is completely in keeping with that which confidently exports British light cars to wind up on the scrap heaps the world over where the going is tough. This is no exaggeration here, where 1953 Vanguards, Oxfords, Vauxhalls and Fords languish on the used-car lots at give-away prices when the humble VW is sold within the hour. If the motor industry had such objective minds as the one which dictated your review the position might be otherwise. I am not qualified to speak of the position in Africa, Australasia, nor Asia, but where road and climatic conditions approximate to the extremes of this country it is hard to see how the position could not be the same. The only fault I could find in your review when I read it some months ago was the one usually attributed to you and your compatriots — understatement. Keep up the good work, sir. Let there continue to be at least one honest objective pen which reports the facts as it finds them. If enough people who matter are finally provoked into doing something constructive about it that pen will have done an estimable service and the alchemists may finally find the right catalyst. It is significant that only one letter of carping and obviously uninformed criticism of the VW has appeared in your columns.
Until such time as the slogan “Buy British offers some enticement to comply with it other than Imperial Preference, the discerning motorist in these parts is restricted in choice to Detroit and Wolfsburg — which, to the really discerning, is no choice at all.
It may be thought that I have a material motive in so enthusiastically lauding the VW. If the truth were known I could be excused for speaking ill of it owing to my personal experience with its purveyors in this province, but no personal dislikes can detract front my whole-hearted admiration for this willing little beast which I heard affectionately described by a small boy as “a crazy mixed-up car.”
I am, Yours, etc..
M. C. Hogan.