Earls Court impressions

The 1956 London Motor Show is notable for modified models rather than exciting new cars. British manufacturers have adopted automatic transmission more readily than Continental companies—besides the cars listed on page 683, Daimler, Ford and Morris can provide “automation” on their six-cylinder cars—picking American brains to do so (Rover provides the exception). However, automatic transmissions absorb power, which uses petrol, and readers of Motor Sport can thus congratulate themselves on possessing the skill and inclination to swap cogs manually, which becomes a pleasure with gear-change apparatus as supplied by Alvis, Bristol, Frazer-Nash, Jaguar, Lotus, Morgan, MG, Lagonda, Rover, Porsche, Volkswagen and some others. Automatic gearboxes and clutches mean additional complication, as we are reminded on finding that the Manumatic publicity hand-out contains a detailed fault-finding chart !

Disc brakes are finding their way from race circuit to public road, for although the Austin-Healey 100S, D-type Jaguar and Aston Martin DB3S cannot now be bought, Citroen, Jensen, Lotus and Triumph use such brakes. Power-steering is filtering in from the USA, being found on certain Armstrong-Siddeley, Austin, Bentley, Rolls-Royce and Citroen models; it can provide light yet high-geared steering on heavy cars but proper steering geometry and not too much weight on the front wheels offers this without such complexity, as one of Europe’s least-expensive cars well proves !

As a Show, Earls Court offers good value, exhibits which the public see for the first time including Campbell’s boat, the record-breaking Austin-Healey, the Targa Florio winning Porsche, the Renault gas-turbine car, the remarkable Buick Centurion dream-car with TV on the dash, the Skoda backbone chassis, which you are allowed to rotate, Allard and Frazer-Nash-BMW chassis, the F II Lotus and the Rover T3. The Lotus F II single-seater weighs about 51/2 cwt, has the twin-cam Climax FPF engine giving 141 bhp at 7,000 rpm, and a very ingenious five-speed all-indirect gearbox in unit with the de Dion axle. The price will be approximately £1,250 without engine. The well-finished Lotus Eleven in Le Mans trim, complete with carpets, backs up the F II racing car. The Rover T3 deserves warm praise, being beautifully finished and a real gas-turbine Gran Turismo car. New cars include the Lancia Flarninia, which just isn’t a Lancia. the Austin-Healey 100-Six with seats for very occasional kids and the beautiful Superleggera Aston Martin with air-scoops to cool the rear brakes and hc head, while amongst stunt exhibits the transparent TR3—another car with back seat which it really only a parcel-shelf, and the performing seal supporting a Minx engine should be seen.

On the way to Earls Court we thought perhaps Sir Leonard Lord had invited Michael Christie of Alexander-Laystall to dinner recently, in view of those hc engines, and sure enough, there on the Austin stand was Mr Christie. We like the new A35 gear-lever, but that on the Morris, now called the Minor 1,000 because it has a 950 cc engine, is a bit too short.

Stand to stand impressions—The Alfa-Romeo stand is impressive, all the cars in Italian-red, and the Giulietta Sprint Veloce on show, on the new high-speed Pirelli tyres, the honest speed claim of 113 mph being displayed. Mercedes-Benz content themselves with a white 190SL sports car, in the style followed by BMW and Aston Martin. The smart Rovers flank the gas-turbine exhibit, bowler hats and rolled umbrellas presumably available as extras. Goggomobil parody the Docker Daimler with a golden-hued minicar upholstered in zebra skin and two MG exhibits, in ghastly colours, are shown on their sides on a rotating frame so that you can really see into them. The new MG MGA fixed-head coupe looks smart, but opening the luggage boot is a tough task, when it is open it is partially occupied by spare wheel and shutting the lid proved impossible. The BMW-engined Frazer-Nash chassis is shown beside the same old Frazer-Nash coupe we have seen before. The new Allard chassis has a C-type Jaguar power unit and ingenious front suspension incorporating sliding pillars and long, square torsion bars with coil-spring back suspension. Beside it is a two-seater with three carburettor Zodiac engine, the body built by Allard themselves— have a look at the very neat bumpers. The new suspension has been tested exhaustively by Sydney Allard on a Safari.

The Vauxhall Cresta has a luggage boot full of what appear to be very odd bird-cages. Riley, which, like Pontiac, is called a Pathfinder, has a transparent bonnet-top to show that the old high-camshaft engine is still used. The Morris Isis has a rh gear-lever like the Riley—nice that BMC have reverted to proper gear-levers—and shares with the Minor a dished steering-wheel styled on that of the 1923 Austin Seven Chummy. Big model cars provide decoration on the Standard and Triumph stands and the location of the od switch and driving position of the Vanguard Sportsman was admired, but the window-beading, like that on a cheap caravan, was not. 

The Singer Gazelle Convertible is shown with head half-folded, coupe de ville fashion, but is spoilt by a silly little radiator grille. Chevrolet show a sports Corvette and a lone exhibit is the tiny Berkeley sports car, which is to sell for 3d. under the maker’s target of £575. It has a driving position many will wish to have modified. The Goggomobil, smallest car at Earls Court, now costs less—£494 17s with pt, and there are the Citroen 2 cv, BMW Isetta and Fiat Multipla which, we have observed previously, the world would be a poorer place without. Citroen also show the ID19, with the disc front brakes and pneumatic suspension of the more futuristic DS19.

Altogether this is a good, well-balanced Motor Show, of boats and caravans and thousands of accessories and gimmicks as well as cars— WB.