The Frankfurt Motor Show

Author

D.S.J

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The German Motor Show is unusual in that it is held only once every two years, and also by reason of the fact that the display is spread over a multitude of small halls, instead of the more normal arrangement of putting everything in one vast hall, as at the British or French Shows. At first glance it would seem that it would be a tiring show to cover but it turned out the complete opposite, for the short walk from one building to another, luckily in a warm October sun, gave one a much-needed breath of fresh air. The result was that each hall was entered with new vigour, in place of the normal Motor Show fatigue that brings most people to their knees by the end of the day.

The show-ground is just on the edge of Frankfurt, when approached from the autobahn, and the roads leading to the main entrance are very gaily decked out in flags by such firms as Opel and Borgward, while the accessory firms such as Bosch and Continental also pave the way with advertising banners. This sort of thing all went towards making the Show more of a fiesta than a heavy and serious-minded technical and commercial exhibition, and inside the ground were hundreds of stalls selling refreshments of all kinds and newspaper and magazine stalls, all helping to keep the atmosphere one of a pleasant day out.

This vast Show covered every aspect of the mechanical vehicle, from tiny passenger cars to enormous transporters, together with all kinds of special vehicles such as fire-engines, dust-carts, ambulances, caravans, camping equipment and so on, as well as all the accessories connected with the motor industry. It was the passenger cars that held the main interest during this visit, and of these the more sporting and high-performance cars were the real objects in view.

The big German firms of Daimler-Benz, Volkswagen, Ford and Auto-Union all had their own private show halls, each trying to outdo the other in magnificence and demonstration of power. In direct contrast, and next door to each other were Daimler-Benz and Volkswagen, and it would be difficult to say which firm appeared to be the more powerful as far as private cars are concerned. VW were still harping on their 1,000,000th car in 10 years, having a vast rotating platform on which the whole working of the VW industry was laid out in models, and the vastness of a million cars expressed in terms of such things as how they would cover a large area of the Atlantic between Europe and America, or stretch to the moon and back, and so on. For tasteful window-dressing the Germans take a great deal of beating and the VW hall was a good example of this art. Daimler-Benz showed a back-cloth of enormous photographs of their racing and sports/racing cars in action, and from this exuded a ramp on which were mounted a Grand Prix car and a 300SLR sports car, the ramp running down to a centre strip in the hall, sunk below the normal ground level, and displayed here was the complete range of Mercedes-Benz cars from the 300SL and 190SL through the 300 models to the 180, demonstrating without the need for words that Mercedes-Benz cars benefit from the racing programme. This sunken centre aisle was for “very special” people, the crowds having, to rubber-neck over the rails, in direct contrast to VW, where it was free-for-all.

In the Daimler-Benz hall the 300SL was unaltered, the 190SL was shown in normal open two-seater roadster form and also with a detachable hard-top, while the more touring models were only altered in detail, though a cabriolet 220 was shown. Still very impressive in a delightful vintage and purist style was the 300S fixed-head coupé, now fitted with the low-pivoted rear swing-axle and a fuel-injection system on the o.h.c. six-cylinder engine.

The main interest for the sporting-minded visitor lay in halls 1a and 1b, where the smaller German firms were displayed and also a few non-German firms, though the Frankfurt Show is more of a national character than international. In the first hall there was much interest being shown in the Nuffield stand, for the new M.G.-A was having its first showing, being displayed with the extra item of knock-off wire wheels, which enhance the appearance but cost an additional sum of money to the reasonable price quoted for a standard model. Between two of the new models was displayed the Utah record-breaker as used by Gardner and Miles to set up long-distance class records, and a very impressive machine it looked. Next door were displayed the TR2 Triumph in normal open, disc-wheeled form and also with hard-top and wire wheels; these models being unchanged except for having the overdrive now working on second. third and fourth gears to choice, and a fresh-air vent allowing cold air into the heater fan for summer motoring. Not far away the third popular English sporting car was shown, this being the Austin-Healey, there being no changes in the specification and only standard models being displayed. Trying the seats in all three types of sporting vehicle, none gave the feeling that they could be driven for 600 miles in a day without tiring the driver, for though they all had individual bucket-seats, they were of the “sprint “type. The Triumph was still preferable from the point of view of elbow-room when having to sort out a full-lock slide, the other two having high cockpit sides. Jaguar were showing a range of XK140 cars, open two-seater, drophead and coupé, and though everyone knew about the much-publicised 2.4-litre saloon the only sign of it was a rather poor artist’s impression.

The only Italian sporting firm showing was Alfa-Romeo and they had a very pretty little open two-seater roadster version of the 1,300-c.c. Giulietta Sprint, rather spoilt by an ungainly windscreen, but apart from this a desirable little car. The normal Giulietta Sprint and the Giulietta saloon were also shown, and looking rather out of place among these very rapid little twin-cam 1,300-c.c. cars was a 1,900 Super Sprint with Superleggera coupé body, unchanged from last year’s model. It was obvious that the smaller Alfa-Romeo is dominating the Milanese firm’s markets and the bigger models are unlikely to last much longer.

Just across the aisle from Alfa-Romeo were some carburetter displays and Solex were showing the complete installation of two double-choke horizontal instruments, together with manifolds and controls, as fitted to the production 190SL Mercedes-Benz, and a veritable “gas-works” it was. Also near here was a tubing manufacturer displaying a bare 300SL chassis’ frame, beautifully finished in shiny black enamel and to lovers of space-frame design it was a joy. On the opposite side of this hall were Porsche, representing the only truly sports-car manufacturer in Germany, and next to them was an odd tyre firm who were showing tubeless tyres. In order to prove that they were puncture-proof they were dropping these tyres from a great height onto a bed of nails. The odd thing was that the nails were so close together as to present an almost flat surface to the tyre and in addition the board on which the nails were mounted was spring-loaded to take the shock of the falling tyre! The imagination of the “publicity boys” the world over is remarkable, or else the gullibility of the public is more remarkable.

Porsche were showing a complete range of cars, coupé, drophead, open two-seater Speedster, and Spyder racing/sports model. The four-camshaft engine is now in production, giving 100 b.h.p. at 6.200 r.p.m. and can be fitted in any of the four models, the normal cars having a redesigned frame construction at the rear to take the wider engine. On the road-going models the engine is still behind the rear axle, while on the racing Spyder it is in front, having been turned round the other way. The normal air-cooled pushrod flat-four engine is still in full production, though now enlarged to 1,600 c.c. as the Porsche is essentially a Gran Turistno car and many owners do competition work with them, and 1,600 c.c. is the International capacity group. In production form the four-camshaft engine is known as the Carrera, after the Mexico road-race, and was shown fitted to a normal Type 356 coupé, the outward lines giving no indication of change of engine. At first glance the Porsche coupé appeared unchanged, but in fact there were many detail changes, the flooring having been lowered to give deeper footwells, 15-in, wheels with larger section tyres being used, softer torsion-bars with stronger shock-absorbers, a single curvature windscreen, a headlamp flasher in the wheel centre and modified instrument layout. Interesting was the adoption of a rexine covered top to the instrument panel, the screen being a fair way forward. This is a move that is becoming increasingly popular, manufacturers at last realising that a driver prefers a matt finish that will not reflect in the windscreen rather than a highly polished surface that might look pretty. Other cars that were making this practical use of rexine covering were the 300SL, the Giuliettas and Super-Sprint 1,900, the open XK140, the Triumph TR2 and a special plastic-bodied D.K.W. sports coupé.

In the centre of this mixed hall was the Lloyd car, the normal production being a little four-seater economy car, appearing in larger numbers every day in Germany. Although they were showing a new 600.c.c. single o.h.c. vertical twin engine, the main interest here was the very nice Monthlèry record-breaker that recently took records from 500 miles to 10,000 kilometres at speeds ranging from 87 m.p.h. to 77 m.p.h. In this the driver lay almost horizontal and the steering column ended in a single cross-bar with hand grips in place of a normal steering wheel.

After a breath of fresh air a visit was made to hall 1b where the larger German firms such as Opel and General Motors, B.M.W. and Borgward were showing. The real pearl of the whole show was the new B.M.W. 507 sports-roadster, finished in white with red interior, and having the expensive extras of the coupé hard-top fitted and knock-off splined hubs, the pressed steel wheels being coveted by chromium discs. This handsome two-seater, selling at a lower price than the Mercedes-Benz 300SL, should find a large market and very ably carry on the tradition of the old Type 328 B.M.W. sports-roadster. Nowadays there is a tendency to make sporting two-seaters with very wide bodies that overflow beyond the width of the tyres and look very bulbous, but the 507 B.M.W. has its alloy body fitted snugly round the wheels and curving in at the front and rear so that viewed front the ends the tyres can just be seen protruding from the sides of the body. This gives a very pleasing compact look to the car as well as a distinctly sporting appearance; this process is employed on the Aston Martin DBS sports car. That B.M.W. are interested in this car being used for competition is shown by the listed extras which include full-length undertray, cockpit cover for the passenger seat, aero-screen and high rear-axle ratio.

Next door, and attracting nearly as much attention, and certainly more practical attention, was the VW sports coupé built by the firm of Wilhelm Karmann of Osnabruck to a design by Ghia and with the co-operation of VW-Wolfsberg. This is truly the poor man’s Porsche and if VW start to put more power into the engine, as they undoubtedly will, it will be a serious rival to the normal production cars from Stuttgart.

The Frankfurt Show was essentially a German Show, but nevertheless an interesting one and did much to enhance the growing feeling throughout the world that “If it is German it is probably good.” while the Italian impression is “If it is Italian it will be interesting,” the English impression “If it is English it will be practical and we can afford to buy it,” and the American impression “If it is-American it is not likely to be for you and me.” The French have yet to make their impression, but if there is one it will be elsewhere in this issue. — D. S. J.

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