The Show holds much of interest, although some of the expected glamour (we refer of course to the cars) is absent. Alfa-Romeo do not show their Spider, only Americanised closed cars, the Ferrari and Pegaso exhibits of former years are not shown, nor is the Karmann Ghia VW present.
Most of the new models had been seen in Paris or read about before Earls Court opened its doors, but Armstrong-Siddeley kept their new 234 and 236 Sapphires a dark secret and Jaguar had held back their 2.4-litre until the London Show.
The A.S. Sapphire 234 has a four-cylinder 120 b.h.p. 90 by 90 mm. 2,290 c.c. engine with cross-pushrod o.h. valve gear, the first four-cylinder A.S. since vintage days (remember the 14?) 100 m.p.h. is claimed from this saloon, which shares the same non-corrosive Hiduminium body shell as the 236, which has a six-cylinder 70 by 100 mm. normal push-rod engine developed from the old Whitley and giving 85 b.h.p. These are spacious but rather high and bulgy cars, but the Sapphire 346 makes up by having power steering under the control of the driver, adjustable ride control like a R-R. two-pedal automatic transmission and power-operated windows. The Riley Pathfinder is shown on a bed of toadstools in a dazzling colour the writer cannot describe as he is colour-blind, and the lone Sunbeam Mark III, in a quiet two-colour scheme is overshadowed by the new Rapier, so that in this 2½-litre high-performance saloon field the 2.4 Jaguar appears to he unchallenged. It is reasonably spacious, has an enormous luggage boot, is so low you can look comfortably over the roof, has at short compact bonnet and very nice lines. Wrap-round bumpers are used front and back. Getting the six-cylinder twin-cam engine in has resulted in close-spacing of components and it is necessary to remove the bonnet panel before you can dislodge the battery. Mr. Lyons has another winner in this Jaguar, especially as it cost, nearly £212 less than the Sapphire even in completely-equipped form.
Lancia show their 2.5-litre Spider with hood up, its three-spoke wood-rim steering wheel and real “man’s” gear-lever heavily spring-loaded to the lower gear positions and leather-covered bar across the cubby-hole, features you will notice if they let you sit in it. The steering column is telescopic and the tyres Michelin “X.” Small boys will no doutbt love the Allard stand on account of the J2R “racer” with driver’s head rest, but the Monte Carlo saloon is rather pneumatic in outline, giving lots of room within, although we doubt if mother-in-law would ever emerge from a back seat so steeply cambered were she persuaded into it. There is the wood dashboard adored by those in deerstalkers.
Both the Austin-Healey and M.G. sports models seemed to have had serious accidents, as they were on their sides. The M.G. sports has a spring steering wheel with its spokes in a narrow X, radio, a non-folding screen and horn knob on the dash centre. The nicely-finished Triumph TR3 appears both on its maker’s and on Mulliner’s Stand, and both times we confirmed that the new back seat will be of use only to those unfortunate parents whose children are of stunted growth. The rigid side-screens of the A.C. Ace have useful curved half-panels, hinged at the base.
The Porsche Speedster is efficiently ugly and on this Stand fitted suitcases emphasise the Iuggage-carrying capacity of these rear-engined cars. VW, with a sober display in which the black and white convertible takes pride of place on a raised dais, also show suitable shaped suitcases for their cars, from the size of which it is deduced that midgets must take with them very extensive wardrobes when they go motoring!
Sunbeam show the new Rapier on a dais above crossed rapiers and the sentiment that “From the traditions of the past emerges the fashion of the future,” and a rotating sectional Rapier engine is also exhibited. The Standard Vanguard III was found to possess rear lamps nearly as large as its headlamps — in sober fact the lamp glasses are about 5 in. in diameter and a very small petrol filler placed rather far inboard. It appears to have borrowed its frontal treatment from one of the older Opel models. If the Rapier Register find the new Sunbeam hard to understand, we confess to being startled to see the name Squire at Earls Court — recalling that exciting 1½-litre twin overhead camshaft sports car made at Remenham, near Henley, in those sun-drenched summers of a nostalgic past. Enquiry revealed it to be a side-valve Ford estate car, which was in process of being sprayed on the Stand during the Press pre-view. Estate cars now have a large following and are shown by AIlard, Borgward, Isabella, Ford, Hillman, Hudson, Humber, Morris, Nash, Peugeot, Renault, Simca Vedette, Skoda and Standard, while VW have the eight-seater Microbus. Most of these are old friends, but the Renault Frégate Domaine is new. Sole car on the extensive Alvis Stand is the practical Graber saloon which most make those in cramped spaces jealous.
Skoda showed a rather primitive type 400 Orlik saloon with circular under-bonrier petrol tank, wire-operated radiator blind. which has a 1,089 c.c. o.h.v. 40 b.h.p. engine, and a much nicer 1,200 c.c. saloon spoilt by having dummy wire wheels.
The Singer Hunter 75 was shown as a working semi-sectioned chassis, with the new twin-overhead-camshaft engine in which a chain-driven o.h. camshaft operates directly above each line of valves and the exhaust valves have a water gallery to cool them, the hemispherical combustion spaces being fully machined.
It was difficult to cover the Show fully when so many stands were unfinished for much of the Press pre-view. The advertised “range of Frazer-Nash models” had dwindled to a solitary fixed-head coupé of the kind Morrish uses at Castle Combe circuit. Already crowds were gathered around the Citroën DS19, so that the Light Fifteen, Big Fifteen and little 2 c.v. went almost unnoticed, and the “comes apart, then mends” Fiat 600 exhibit was a source of interest. Peter Townsend was inspecting, said rumour, the Jensen 541, Moss was in demand as a photographer’s model, and the Press photographers were thick as flies around the Cadillac La Espada experimental car in reinforced fibreglass. Lincoln shows a nice American in the Continental Mk. II saloon, but the 300SL Mercedes-Benz in red had retired under a dustsheet, nor had the new Lanchester Sprite arrived — thus was a Pressman, with printers waiting, frustrated.
New models include the Daimler One-o-Four, the Ford-engined Morgan, least-expensive sports car on the market, the V8 Pontiacs and the V8 Packards with full-length torsion-bar suspension and automatic leveliser. There appears to be nothing especially original in methods of displaying the cars, but we did notice a Wolseley 4/44 which had somehow got onto a beach. The B.M.W. 507 is imposing in hard-top two-seater form, on its large Firestone Phoenix tyres. On a little stand all to itself the Lotus chassis was displayed, an object lesson to designers, against a background of racing photographs and with cleverly-worded little cards above it depicting outstanding features. Thus were the keen and critical visitors who gazed at it reminded that its radiator needs only 116 sq. in. of cooling surface, its swing-axle independent front suspension has a roll-centre of 6 in., the rear suspension units weigh only 6.3 lb., the tubular space-frame 63 lb. complete with all mounting brackets, and that after 1,600 racing miles the 9-in, brakes were found to be completely satisfactory. Good show, Colin Chapman. And over at Montlhèry another Coventry-Climax-engined car, the Cooper, was busy establishing new International class records.
The 1955 Earls Court Show can be summed up as stimulating and interesting, the initiative being with those firms listing high-performance models, for the bread-and-butter exhibits of the Big Five are uninspiring, only Standard, with the Vanguard III, having anything really new, the others contenting themselves with old models somewhat modified here and there, or with new bodies, although Morris shows the Isis, introduced last July.