Each year, as the opening of the Earls Court Motor Show proclaims the end of another motorirg season, it seems a good thing to take stock of what has gone before and what is likely to lie ahead.
The scientists tell us that the world is slowing down and will eventually be uninhabitable by humans, but they reassure us by planning mass-evacuation to far-distant planets.
All of which renders the Motor Show and whether to buy a Sleekline Six or a Rugged Rotter rather remote. I wonder, however, whether getting the first space-ship away is going to be any easier than getting a B.R.M. off the line in some of the earlier post-war races? We are told that on the longer journeys the crew will have to be prepared to breed future crews en route because the original members will die before they arrive, which seems to suggest that a very high rate of starting-money will he demanded — by their relatives! “Ah,” say the scientists involved, ” but you are already doing this, for what is earth but a space-ship?” The earth, however, is steered by God, the space-ship will be steered by man; and in that I feel lies the difference.
Returning on that note to Earls Court, the exhibits at which I have not seen at the time of writing, I do hope most sincerely that I shall find a new way of thinking on the part of British designers and that they will be offering air-cooling, independent rear suspension, rear-located engines or front-wheel drive and the like to their customers, the public. On the Continent they have these items of specification in the low-priced cars (VW, Renault 750, Fiat 600), so why not in Britain? Or if you prefer to leave the engine at the front, then front-wheel-drive, as adopted by Citroën, Panhard and D.K.W.
Engines have reached a high degree of perfection and reliability and it is where they are installed, and in what sort of chassis, which seems to matter now, although I hope air-cooling will spread. It works not only on low-output engines but for the Porsche (remember Le Mans?), and it not only means immunity from freezing in winter and overheating in summer, but is devoid of anxiety about damaged radiators, split hoses and such like, besides which it should spell longer cylinder-bore life. My own air-cooled car (I will modestly forbear to utter which make!) gets its oil reasonably warm within three miles of starting from cold and is up to its normal oil temperature in 5/6 miles. Just pause to consider what the water temperature of your engine is after that distance, reflect that oil takes a great deal longer to get warm than the cooling water, and you will, I think, see my meaning. If you must have water, at least dispense with fan and pump, as Alvis did successfully on the 12/50 all of thirty-two years ago. Having got your air-cooled engine you can put it out of sight behind you, where noise, heat and fumes will float backwards away from your human form, which is susceptible to such things, or you can mount it in front and make it drive the front wheels, so that round corners you will gain that stability which any owner of a Citroën made during the past twenty-one years will tell you is a very considerable safety factor.
As I am writing for Motor Sport readers, I assume you will wish to corner fast and to enjoy good control, so I must insist on a back suspension which doesn’t wag the car like the tail wags the dog. De Dion, swing-axle or other form of i.r.s. — it’s all the same to me providing the designer is prepared to throw away that great unsprung mass of rigid axle which still persists on almost all British cars. Mark you, at the risk of treading on Mr. Tinwear’s toes, I sometimes wonder if vintage cars are not just the very thing for the British motorist, judging by the manner in which the majority of them seldom exceed 40 m.p.h. even along wide, straight roads. I base this on long observation, added to the manner in which the moderns baulked my 33-year-old 8-h.p. vintage two-seater on the journey to Goodwood and back to celebrate the V.S.C.C.’s 21st birthday. How such drivers ever contrive to have serious accidents beats me, yet isn’t it a fact that the insurance companies, in trying to excuse another increase in insurance rates, point to the expense of repairing battered modern vehicles after crashes, while admitting that the vintage cars involve them in next to nothing at all? It seems sad to me that with engines which benefit to the full from excellent high-octane petrols that prevent knocks-at-the-piston, the average motorist scarcely makes use of the power at his command yet still contrives to suffer knocks-on-the-body.
I am fortunate to be writing for an enthusiastic readership of a quarter-of-a-million (the circulation of Motor Sport continues to increase every month) instead of for Mr. Average Driver, for whom the journals at this time of the year have to cover proprietary heaters and Laying-up-until-the-Spring, in order to help fill the advertising pages which so outnumber those devoted to editorial. (The new 2.4-litre Jaguar may be an excellent car but I became rather sick of it after counting 65 separate pictures of it in one issue of a weekly contemporary!) We have come so far along the path of motoring comfort, that it seems permissible to wonder whether the modern car-owner in his enclosed saloon, equipped with heater, demister, defroster, air-conditioning, radio, cigarette lighters, ash-trays, flashing indicators telling of its intention to turn, antennae feeling for the kerb, a dolly dangling from the screen to amuse the occupants, with a chain trailing astern to humour their stomachs and the sidelamps alight to ward off forked lightning, knows much of motoring. Soon he will have universal automatic transmission and power steering, and he will continue to swell the congestion in our towns and along our arterial roads. But you and I and most of the quarter-million Motor Sport enthusiasts can still find cars to enjoy and roads over which to enjoy them. How long will this be so, I wonder? Already on my 40-mile journey to and from the office I drive the entire way, except for the initial four miles, between newly-laid kerbstones (some of which even protrude purposely at places where the local authority deems accident-prevention a matter of frightening drivers to a crawl instead of speeding-up the traffic flow). At present this isn’t too bad, because for much of the distance after London has receded they are flanked by grass and there are trees beyond the footpaths. Yet everywhere buildings are springing up where fields, trees and hedges once stood, for in this Age of the Bulldozer beauty is at a premium. The time may soon come when motoring in the Home Counties will cease to provide any pleasure, only convenience, because there will be no point in leaping into the driving-seat to escape from bricks and mortar if bricks and mortar flank your route all the way; you’d be better off in a helicopter. How long shall we give it — ten years ?
For the present, however, the desire is to motor and Earls Court will provide an International sales-room of new cars for those who can afford such luxuries in an age when the motorist is for the fleecing — the motor-insurance sharks (who might as well be Nationalised and have done with it) are after a biggish bite, and petrol, so savagely taxed by Labour and Conservative Governments alike, has gone up in price, Shell having put a 1d. extra on their premium grade the day before I wrote these words, with the rest of the big companies soon following suit. The fact is that, insurance is no longer a sporting gamble, purely profit-snatching Big Business. What excuse the petrol companies have for slapping 1d. a gallon on the private-motorists’ petrol, which costs no more to distribute than commercial fuel, and after the 16 companies which have so far reported profits this year show an increase, vide the Sunday Express, of £32 million to a total of £306,000,000 and have paid out nearly £9,000,000 more in dividends, I cannot imagine. Lucky are the vintage-car owners whose low-compression engines will run on the cheapest petrol, scorning high aromatic, platinum-processed, initial control additive high-octane fuels and who do not have to carry sleeping babies on the back seat.
But the rest of us must wish that the petrel companies would be content with a mere fortune. With six times as much oil gushing from the Middle East now as there was ten years ago, surely they could still run their 10 per cent, wages and salaries increase, elaborate publicity stunts, paint petrol stations free of charge, employ sleek “petrol reps.” and so on, while reducing the price of their fuel? And isn’t it interesting that although they — Shell, Esso, National Benzole, Vacuum, Fina, Regent and my own favourite Cleveland — are all supposed to be rivals, yet all have extracted exactly the same increase in price of their products? Certainly the Motor Show stimulates interest in motoring, and if purchase tax on new cars is increased, as Mr. Butler is said to contemplate, and if wage increases and manufacturing costs continue to inflate new-car prices, used-car sales should improve, providing vendors have the good sense not to further increase the already ridiculously high prices asked for vehicles which have either been wearing-out in use or deteriorating in storage for the better part of two decades. For some of us all these glittering new models at Earls Court, with which it is well-nigh impossible to associate such vulgar calamities as flat tyres, flat batteries, oval bores or crumbling valves, seem to have a perverse effect and we regard the older cars with increased affection. I will confess that I took a perverse delight in arriving at the Show two years ago in a “bull-nose ” Morris-Oxford for a demonstration of the V8 Pegaso. I have no doubt there are others about like that! But if, after dazzling yourself at Earls Court, you feel the need to motor and set out to purchase a used-car, do use your loaf and not unload bags of gold or dollars to unscrupulous salesmen offering you a flogged-to-death heap as a “genuine team-car, old boy,” or a mediocre model of a well:Inown make as “personal property of the late Sir Malcolm Campbell.” After all, you can always ask our advice, or gen.-up at the appropriate one-make Club or Register.
Did I write “dazzled at Earls Court”? You will be that all right at the Hillman stand, where the Gay Look Minx will be brightly displayed. I first saw these attractive two-colour cars at the first of the Showtime Parties (which some journalists enjoy and after which I — with my Mk. 1 internals — suffer) at Devonshire House, where the Rootes P.R.O., John Bullock, had arranged for young ladies wearing frocks the colours of the new cars to pin buttonholes in the gentlemen’s lapels. As the young ladies were very charming models and their frocks of the opera-top variety, I think the visitors probably looked more at the girls than at the cars, which may be why, as I walked back through the sunlight to Hyde Park, I decided that I prefer my sober all-black VW. But if I am permitted to road-test the Gay Look Minx next year I shall certainly ask for one of these charming models to be part of the trial . . . I do not know whether this year’s Motor Show will be notable for many entirely new models because I am writing this before the doors open, but already some very interesting new cars have been announced. Jaguar, for instance, seems to have “hit the jackpot” again with a 2.4-litre six-cylinder, twin-o.h. camshaft saloon for which 100 m.p.h. is claimed, at a total price, with p.t., of £1,269 (plus a ridiculous ten.pence), which puts it in price competition with the Riley Pathfinder and Sunbeam Mk. III. I shall be interested to discover whether it is faster than the former and more roomy than the latter, although somehow I do not think the Jaguar P.R.O., Bill Rankin, is any more likely to lend us one than the Bishop is to bestow a new M.G. on us. However, without trying it I know the Jaguar has one of the best engines in the world and although the employment of cantilever back springs seems decidedly unusual in 1955, this bears out all Georges Roesch used to say when he endowed quite big Talbots with ¼-elliptic rear suspension, saying that anything longer was unnecessary and just so much dead-weight. And the Jaguar front suspension is every bit as intriguing. The new sports M.G., Series MGA, will attract the tweed caps and polo-necks, and how nice that the misleading “Midget” has at last been dropped. The car has decided promise and if either of the twin-overhead-camshaft engines used in the T.T. become available in the production version, that will be really exciting. At present the car uses virtually the B.M.C. 1,500 TF engine, but new body lines have apparently produced a maximum speed of nearly 99 m.p.h. The fuel consumption, however, seems heavy in comparison with the Triumph TR2, for example, and without good fuel consumption, in this age of the flat-rate annual tax, a 1½-litre engine is of small merit except that it is convenient for competition purposes. I hear from America that dealers are unhappy over having had to wait four months for this new M.G. model, which was apparently due there in June, and, as Road and Track sagely observes: ” . . the new model has the same power (68 b.h.p.) and the same weight as the TF, so will accelerate the same.” It is heavy, at 18¼cwt. unladen, a figure which should turn Colin Chapman British Racing Green! Nor is it particularly inexpensive, being only £30 loss than a Triumph TR2, and I believe that a number of minor points will need tidying up before the latest M.G. appeals to the discerning enthusiast as earlier M.G.s
I only hope present-day sportsmen and sportsgirls realise what excellent value is offered to them in the sports cars of 1956. Austin-Healey, M.G., Triumph, and Morgan deserve every credit for excellent productions in the inexpensive fast-car field. Incidentally, in about the only convincing race for Standard production sports cars this season, run by the Mid-Cheshire M.C. at Oulton Park, it was the least-expensive 2-litre of them all, the Morgan Plus Four, which vanquished a strong field of Austin-Healey, A.C. Ace and Triumph TR2 cars.
I am glad to see increasing use of overdrive, showing that such good use is made of modern fuels that present-day small engines develop sufficient power to enable high gear ratios to be employed, which was one of the most enjoyable technical aspects of the vintage era. But I wonder whether it wouldn’t be better to build them into the gearbox, as Peugeot and Renault do, instead of incorporating proprietary units operated by airman-Cody’s mistrusted “electrikery.” And if Borgward, VW, Porsche and others can pull high top gears with engines of under 1,500 c.c., what excuse is there for buzzing? Certainly it is nice to cruise the VW at 60 m.p.h. and to know that its “boxer” engine is turning over at only 2,970 r.p.m., whereas at the same speed the engine of the Austin A30 runs at 4,760 r.p.m., that of the Standard Ten at 4,080 r.p.m., and that of the Ford Anglia at 4,000 r.p.m.
,It is pleasing to see how racing innovations are finding their way onto production cars. Disc brakes, which were a sensation on the V16 B.R.M. were soon adopted by Jaguar and Austin-Healey for sports-car racing, and later by Aston Martin, and became available in a limited degree to the public. This year Triumph experimented with two different makes at Le Mans and used such brakes in the T.T., three British F.1 cars use them, and Colin Chapman has Girling disc brakes on his latest Lotus. I do not know as I write this whether any other cars available to the public besides Austin-Healey 100S, Jaguar D-type and Lotus-Climax will have disc brakes at Earls Court, but watch any manufacturer who does adopt them, because this will be an assurance that he employs a design-staff which doesn’t hang about. De Dion rear suspension, petrol injection (on Lloyd and Mercedes-Benz), and plastic bodies (Lancia) are other items of racing-car specification now adopted for road cars, and it may not be long before Mercedes-Benz’ air brakes and B.R.M.’s air-strut suspension is so used.
With integral body/chassis construction open bodies are difficult to stiffen adequately and with a true space frame the doors present difficulties, overcome by gull-wing doors in the Mercedes-Benz 300SL, the practicability of which was made clear by our Continental Correspondent last month in his article on a drive in one of these cars to the Arctic Circle. We are obviously becoming confirmed closed-car users but, sports two-seaters apart, British convertibles number those of Alvis TC 21/100, Aston Martin DB2/4, Bentley, Bristol 405, Daimler Conquest, Ford Zephyr, Hillman Minx, Jaguar XK 140, Jensen Interceptor, Lagonda, Morgan, and Morris Minor in contrast to which Triumph offer a hard-top version of the in-any-case closeable TR2. Convertible bodies amongst Continental cars on the British market, as I write, are available on Delage D6, D.K.W., Mercedes-Benz 300S, Panhard Junior Sprint, Porsche, Renault 750 and VW. But as our Porsche-minded Continental Correspondent says, “Why get cold and wet when you can go faster under a lid,” and both Stirling Moss and Mike Hawthorn have renounced open cars away from the circuits.
My own feeling is that not only are large engines unnecessary in modern cars (the petrol companies continue to render them a luxury) but that modern traffic conditions call for very small overall dimensions. For two people the Porsche is about what I have in mind, and for a family car I crave nothing larger than a VW. Such small cars need not look odd if they are decently proportioned, although I must confess that this art is something of a mystery to me — why does a big-boned, bowler-hatted businessman seen broadside on in a Ford Anglia look slightly comic but becomes just a big man in a small car in, say, a Standard Ten? If there is any immediate goal to which I would like to see designers apply themselves it is to greater reliability. One component frequently in disgrace is the car clock, my own Moto Meter clock on the VW used to tick away the remaining minutes of my life in a startingly audible manner, but soon it did so only intermittently or not at all. Many other car clocks are equally temperamental, so that it is a brilliant, idea on the part of Timex to introduce a tiny key-ring car clock to supplement the dashboard one, that is, if their new shock-resistant miniature proves to be reliable.
In the matter of reliability, will someone please build a car which will run for 10,000 miles without developing any trouble or snags of any sort? In my own experience of three new post-war cars I have been disappointed not to achieve this comparatively modest distance without quite serious defects occurring. I had thought that perhaps only low-priced cars suffer in this unfortunate manner but an acquaintance of mine tells me that his new car needed a replacement gearbox, and has suffered from a leaking brake master-cylinder, a faulty distributor, a faulty timing-chain tensioner and other smaller defects in 5,500 miles, and its basic price is £1,140; so where are we? If readers have cars which have run 10,000 miles, properly serviced, without so much as a blown lamp-bulb. our correspondence columns are open for them to tell the world so, but in general I deplore the very good cars which are spoilt by early defects of a minor, and seemingly avoidable, nature. So far as general design is concerned, I wouldn’t willingly return to watercooling and a rigid back axle. So far as the former is concerned, were I handling the publicity of an air-cooled car (which Heaven forbid!), I shouldn’t be able to resist countering those advertisements for anti-freeze which appear at this time of year declaring, “WARNING. It’s ¼ time again! Frost Can Strike at Any Time . . by having one worded ” Don’t Worry! Air Cannot Freeze” or words to that effect.
In past Show Reports I have remarked that today’s motor-manufacturers are really motor-assemblers, and if you examine carefully the interesting exhibits of the components and accessory companies you will learn the truth of this. Fortunately there are, as Chubbs might say, “Lots of combinations,” and versatility still predominates, although one day the use of standard components may result in all cars looking exactly alike, as visualised by Vandervell Products.
At Earls Court it will be possible to see side-valve, vertical push-rod overhead-valve, inclined push-rod-actuated overhead-valve, single overhead-camshaft and twin overhead-camshaft engines; two, three, flat-four, in-line four, six and V8 cylinder dispositions, two-stroke as well as Otto: bevel, hypoid and worm back axles; leaf-spring, coil-spring, torsion-bar and pneumatic suspension mediums; de Dion, swing-axle and rear-axle arrangements; all manner of methods of achieving independent front suspension; and so on throughout the anatomy of the brilliant collection of International cars on display. Moreover, Colin Chapman’s Lotus will be present in this great Exhibition hall and that should warm the cockles of all enthusiast hearts, for here is a tubular spaceframe aerodynamic design which owes nothing to standardisation and the big combines. The Lotus is obviously intended for competition motoring but is just as much the true enthusiast’s road-car as was an Amilcar Six or a Grand Prix Bugatti three decades ago. It goes remarkably with a mere 1,100 c.c. of Coventry-Climax power unit, and for a small concern this, and the fact that the car has run most convincingly at Le Mans and in the T.T. before it retired, is creditable indeed. Its close rival, the Cooper, will not, I believe, be shown — at the Castle Combe race meeting on October 1st we saw a Cooper-Climax with its slab tail (which enables a friend of mine to say that his very square shooting-brake possesses Surbiton streamline!) battle with and just beat an aerodynamic, tail-finned Lotus-Climax — but in these and the other small firms we find cars near to our ideal, perhaps because Colin Chapman and his kind not only design the cars they sell but race ’em (either as drivers or technicians) as well.
On that note I will close, welcoming you to the great London Motor Show, with all it will reveal, from the Docker Daimler to the aforesaid so-desirable Lotus sports/racing car. — W. B.