Matters of moment, November 1956

The Earls Court Motor Show

The London Motor Exhibition at Earls Court is an important shop window for the Industry as well as a great social occasion. In the catalogues issued by the exhibitors ladies and gentlemen elegantly attired in formal clothes or the latest sportswear will be found regarding the new models with high delight and eager anticipation—but, remember, they do not have to face the many hazards of everyday motoring as you and we have to do !

The Show was opened on October 17th by the Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden. We are surprised that the Prime Minister should thus encourage the sale of cars when the roads of his country are grossly inadequate for those already in circulation. However, writing prior to the opening day, we can only assume that in his speech he proclaimed his intention of sanctioning immediately brave new motorways for Britain . . .

The 1956 Motor Show is disappointing from the aspect of new British cars, far too many of our manufacturers seek sales of existing models by modest increases in power and revised colour schemes instead of introducing technical innovations such as independent rear suspension, engines adjacent to the driving wheels, air-cooling, petrol injection and similar features which have been commonplace for years amongst Continental designs.

We had expected a revolutionary new Morris Minor to direct BMC back on to the road to prosperity and full-employment, but the 1957 version of the little car, designed by Alec Issigonis and introduced seven years ago, merely has a slightly revised appearance and an engine larger by 147 cc. Although this engine at last gives the Minor and Austin A35 a greater power output than the ubiquitous Volkswagen (by 4 bhp), it does so by reason of a compression-ratio as high as 8.3 to 1, which would seem to call for high-octane petrol, an unusual essential requirement for an economy car.

The Austin-Healey 100 appears in six-cylinder 2/4-seater form, with a power increase of 12 bhp over the well-established four-cylinder model to combat an increase in weight of some 3 cwt, while no announcement has been made concerning the equivalent of the former light-alloy, disc-brake 100M version, so that we are left wondering if the new car was introduced mainly because continuation of the four-cylinder engine was contrary to BMC’s production policy. In contrast, Triumph are to be congratulated on continuing the Triumph TR3 is virtually unchanged form, except for better porting and the commendable addition, at no extra cost, of Girling disc brakes on the front wheels.

Britain has made excellent sports cars since the introduction of the 30/98 Vauxhall and continues to do so, as the cars on the stands occupied by AC, Allard, Aston Martin, Austin-Healey, Frazer-Nash, Jaguar, Lotus, MG, Morgan and Triumph will confirm. We hope engineers as well as sports-car enthusiasts will make a point of studying the Lotus on Stand 121, because Colin Chapman builds a great deal of know-how into these little cars, now available in club and hard-top versions as well as in sports/racing form, and the big boys of the Industry’s design staff would be the better for absorbing some of the lessons Lotus has to teach them.

When it comes to the luxury-car market Britain again offers a splendid selection, as visits to the stands occupied by Alvis, Armstrong-Siddeiey, Austin, Bentley, Bristol, Daimler, jaguar, Jensen, Lagonda, Rolls-Royce and Rover will show. Prices range from approximately £1,400 to £5,400 and many of these beautifully-equipped vehicles are in the high-performance category. However, close examination of their wood-veneered dashboards stocked with high-grade instruments reveals a certain “sameness” so that one wonders whether these vehicles were born, if not in the vestry, then in the gallery, for in the gallery at Earls Court will be found standardised proprietary accessories and components in such variety and profusion that it is true to remark that there is little on the floor of the Motor Show which cannot be discovered, dissected, in the area above. Yet, if some detail affinity exists amongst even the. quality cars, let us acknowledge the technical individuality of Rolls-Royce and Lagonda, the former by reason of possessing mechanical servo braking and suspension ride-control, the latter because it is alone (save the !) amongst British non-sports cars in having independent rear suspension. Jensen, too, stand out for their adoption of Dunlop disc brakes and the use of glass-fibre for the body of the beautiful 541, and Austin deserve praise for incorporating Girling power-steering and automatic transmission on the new Princess IV at an all-in price of under £3,400.

At Earls Court these sports cars and quality cars, the economy cars offered by Austin, Ford (still the least-expensive), Morris and Standard, the family cars ef Austin, Ford, Hillman, Morris, Standard, Vauxhall and Wolseley, and those cars made by Austin, Ford, Humber, MG, Riley, Rover, Singer, Sunbeam and Wolsaley which bridge the gap between the family and quality vehicles, are set out hopefully for the world’s buyers to inspect, alongside their rivals from other nationa, at what is recognised as one of the more important of the annual motor exhibitions.