The cars of Betty Haig
Described to the Editor in a recent interview Late in November I drove out of…
A Test Day, the Salon and a Race Meeting
The traffic in Paris during the normal hours of daylight has become almost impossible, not unlike London, though the big difference is that in the French capital it is continually moving, and at times remarkably fast. If you want to get from one side. of Paris to the other, you put on your driving gloves, engage second gear and press relentlessly onwards, so that in quite a short space of time you are out the other side. Should you want to stop in Paris, then that is when the traffic becomes impossible. It is quite difficult to find parking spare for a scooter, let alone a small car, and most roads are chock-a-block down both kerbs, and in many places on the pavements as well. As a result it was deemed prudent to visit the Paris Salon by air, for it would save unnecessary hours of searching for parking places.
A smooth and quick night flight by B.E.A. Viscount, surely one of Britain’s best engineering achievements, a rough old bus and a spiritedly driven taxi covered the journey there, and next morning we assembled near the Arc de Triomphe for the beginning of a rather special day. Normally the Motor Show is the first thing to visit, but this time we were able to take part in a practical motor show, before spending time in the Grand Palais. The French Presse Association, in conjunction with the French manufacturers, organised a day of driving at Montlhery, using the full 12.5 kilometre road circuit, which also includes one of the steep bankings of the piste, de vitesse, and this took place on the Friday after the motor show had opened. A large collection of French cars were assembled to take journalists arriving from almost every country in Europe out to the Montlhery Autodrome, which lies 25 kilometres to the south of Paris, and by some very clever routing, the journey was effected with a minimum of traffic bothers. Riding as passenger in a new DynaPanhard we began to wonder about horizontally opposed air-cooled engines and f.w.d., while the way the 850-cc. two-cylinder engine rushed this large four-seater saloon along still remains a surprise. Lined up in front of the pits were a wide variety of French motor cars more than one example of each being available, for there was a very large number of Press people present and the form was that one did two laps of the full circuit before handing the car to someone else.
Believing in starting at the beginning, we first took a Peugeot 203, quite normal and unchanged for many years, so popular has it proved with the French motorists. At once the steering was admired for its positive feel and the way the car could be pointed in the desired direction with the steering wheel, but it seemed undergeared and a bit underpowered, while the ride over one particular wavy section of road was very prehistoric, as was the very small and seemingly cramped interior. Deciding to make a direct comparison with the newer 403 Peugeot we were heading for it when a Dyna-Panhard caught our eye, for it had right-hand steering and a speedo calibrated in m.p.h. so we set off in that, being a new export-to-Britain model. As with the one we had journeyed to Montlhery in, the speed and spaciousness was most impressive, while the noise level was reasonably low, but the gear-change and handling were depressing to say the very least. Being used to a car that will help you to corner and certainly stay on your side when the cornering gets spirited, the Dyna was a shock, for if provoked it had a will of its own that almost represented a built-in accident. One lap sufficed and we then took a 403 Peugeot with automatic clutch by Jaeger, the English instrument firm. One of these fancy clutches already having torn itself apart in the hands of a respected and trustworthy English journalist we were bid to change gear carefully. The hat peg that protrudes from the steering column and serves as a gear lever is moved about in the normal (or abnormal, depending on one’s views on this subject) manner, without any left foot movement being required, there being no clutch pedal, the clutch engaging itself when the engine speed rises to a take-on speed. This large and comfortable six-seater saloon impresses the more it is driven and we had to keep saying ” but the engine is only one-and-a-half litres,” which took a lot of believing. For a well balanced, well-mannered, vice-free family saloon Peugeot have the complete answer in the 403 and it made the 203 seem almost vintage like.
Still a little worried about the Dyna-Panhard and wondering whether it was our lack of experience with f.w.d. cornering technique. we took out a DS19 Citroen, and the nice man in charge of it whispered in our car as we set off ” only two laps .. . well, three if you would like to.” We all know, or are told often. that f.w.d. is no good. the air and hydraulic suspension is too complicated to work, the strange automatic clutch and gear-change are a snare and delusion, with the f.w.d. there is never any steering lock, power-steering and power-brakes are what is wrong with American cars and so on. But Citroen have provided all the answers and cocked a snoot at almost every criticism levelled at the DS19. When they have their flat-six air-cooled engine in production the last “snoot will be cocked.” We did three laps (Ssh !) and could have gone on all day in this superb piece of French engineering, Until you have driven a new Citroen got used to the new ideas of driving, and then hurled it round Montlhery in the most diabolical and irresponsible fashion. your motoring life is not complete. We can only support the Citroen advertisements. the DS19 IS A MODERN MOTOR CAR, it makes most other things seem 10 years behind the times. We know it wheezed and puffed in its suspenders as we threw it about, and we know the funny little button on the floor is not a real brake pedal, and the gear-change is slow, but we liked the Citroen. As we cornered with the rims almost rubbing the ground we saw a Renault Dauphine on its side in the ditch.
After the best we thought we would try the worst, and chose the Simca Ariane Four; this being a large Ford-like motor car that first appeared many years ago as the Versaille or Regency, with 22 h.p. V-8 engine, built by French Fords and then merged with Sinica and had the: little four-cylinder pushrod Simea 1,100 engine fitted. We felt that this could not possibly be a nice motor car, but how wrong we were. Like the Panhard, the Ariane’s tiny engine propelled it along at a speed that was not in the least bit dull, while the hat-peg gear-change was a simple and rigid mechanism, positive in its movements, rather like the old Ford Pilot used to be. In fact, the whole car was more Ford like than Simca, and had the sound basic transport character that Detroit instills into its satellites such as Dagenham and Paris. The Simca Arlene was devoid of frills or fuss, behaved surprisingly well had no nasty habits and completely wiped the smile off our faces, so that we returned after two laps, covered in confusion. This particular model had a normal four-speed gearbox, though there was another version available with an automatic clutch arrangement called ” Rushmatic “—we decided we ought to try a Renault. A 4 c.v. with Feriae automatic clutch was standing idle so away we buzzed, this merry little minicar trying so hard to pretend it was a real grown up Motor car. By cornering in a continual wischen, just like an old-fashioned Porsche, we managed to scrabble round all the corners without having an accident, but felt all the time that a moment’s hesitation or lack of concentration would have seen us in the ditch along with the aforementioned Dauphine. Of course, we could have merely driven slowly and respectably, but we were representing MOTOR SPORT. As lunch was approaching and the cars were being given a rest we plunged desperately into a Peugeot 403 drophead coupe, reluctant to miss a moment of motoring. After our two laps we wished we had gone to an early lunch, for the drophead two-seater 403 bears little or no resemblance to the standard four-door saloon. Just how Peugeot’s have contrived to make two cars so entirely different, using the same components. remains a mystery. That we had not made a mistake was confirmed by a 403 saloon owner with whom we lunched, who had made the same unfortunate discovery.
After lunch in a large marquee alongside the track we came out into time glorious sunshine again and deciding that discretion is better than valour, we took a 2 c.v. Citroen, thinking to do a single quiet lap, just to play ourselves in again. Unfortunately, two deadly rivals, who work for equally sporting monthly journals, had the same idea, and for two glorious laps a trio of 2 c.v. Citroens engaged in unholy battle and at the end we all three called a truce. raised our hats to Mr. Citroen and decided that he knows all the answers to the needs of the everyday motorist. The 2 c.v. may not be fast, but it is incredibly safe and enormous fun to drive, and these two attributes alone are rare these days. Remembering the drop head 403 before lunch we took a perfectly normal 403 Peugeot saloon, just to convince ourselves, and came across another Dauphine lying very bent in a ditch. Preferring to use all our feet when motoring we enjoyed the normal 403 more than the one with the Jaeger automatic clutch. but the quicker gear-changes found us still changing up from third into second, when really scratching, just as we had done on the road-test car last winter. In spite of that the 403 rates as being the best normal family saloon that we have driven for a long time, having as it does a remarkable turn of speed, an unburstable engine and handling characteristics that are difficult to fault, even when sideways on along the grass verge through overdicing. Feeling that perhaps we were becoming unfaithful to Mr, Citroen we then went out in an ID19, the ” cooking ” version of the DS, having manual gear-change, no power steering, and other minor lack of refinement—in fact, a Woolworth’s. model. Like its expensive sister it puffed and wheezed through its suspension as we enjoyed ourselves on the twists and turns of the Montlhery road circuit, but we found the manual gear-change incredibly quick, especially from third to top at peak revs., and we liked the more positive feel of the manual steering. In total we felt just a little bit more in command of the ID when on the limit, but the price to pay was physical exhaustion after two laps, compared with the ease of three in the DS. We saw another Dauphine on its side in the ditch.
As the day was drawing to a close we hurriedly took the offer of one fast lap in the passenger seat of a production Panhard coupe; of the Gran Turismo type that does so well in rallies. The driver was Gerard Laureau, one of the better D.B. specialists and the trip was nothing short of incredible. He was very brave and kept the power from the D.B. tuned flat-twin Panhard engine, full on through the corners with a result that would be difficult for a much more powerful sports car to have equalled. The D.B.s are certainly specialists’ cars, like Porsches, or 300SLs, and just as a demonstration by von Trips, or Uhlenhaut, leaves you breathless, so Laurean left us breathless. In an attempt to regain our sense of proportion we decided to take a Renault, and there being a rather obvious shortage of Dauphines, We set off in a Fregate. It was not long before we wished we had not done so, for it struck us as a rather gormless vehicle, with very little character and hardly anything to commend it, unless it costs very little money. Its steering column gear-change was worse than the worst atrocity perpetrated by Longbridge before B.M.C. saw the light and returned to gear levers and it was noticeably gutless. Perhaps it was just a bad example of the Fregate, there was not time to try another.
To conclude the day and leave us with rosy memories of the French Automobile industry we had a last final dice in another ID19 Citroen this one being not quite so austere as the other in the way of interior trim. Somehow we got mixed up with the other ID and one of the DS models, so that our day ended by finding the absolute limit of cornering and stability of these remarkable French motor cars, and we ended our day’s motoring very impressed. The journey back to Paris, through the evening traffic, was done five up in a Shinn Ariane Four, driven by a Parisian taxi driver of 26 years’ standing, and a wonderful sense of humour. If anyone suggests that high-speed traffic driving is a myth in Paris, don’t you believe them.
After such a first-class day, provided by the French Press and the French industry, the Saturday spent at the Salon came as an anti-climax. However, remembering how the Salon is always full of the interesting and unusual, the sporting and sophisticated, as well as the normal new cars, we entered the Grand Palais with keen anticipation. But we were wrong, for there was a rather dull and depressive air about the Salon this year. The number of unusual foreign makes was down to a bare minimum, “one off” ” specials ” were almost non-existent and the exotic and bizarre had gone completely. Last year there had been a distinct suggestion that the face of the Salon was changing rapidly and this year that suggestion was confirmed: So little was absolutely new that by walking the length of the Champs Elysees you could have seen most of the vehicles that were at the Show. In addition, the competition cars had almost disappeared and few and far between were the actual winning or record cars, still in their battle dirt, that used to be a feature of the freedom of the Paris Salon. It was not an outstanding motor show. However, all was not lost for David Brown had the new and exciting DB4 Aston Martin on his stand, with its 3.7-litre engine, coil and wishbone ifs. and disc brakes ; in fact, the car that we depicted in “Continental Notes” as long ago as October, 1957. Just nearby was another” first time out last year” car, the Lotus Elite, now being handled in France by Jacques Savoye, the man who used to race Singers before the war. A single Elite was on show, with r.h.d. and painted an unfortunate shade of blue, but nevertheless looking most desirable. Next door to Lotus was a minicar that almost made us believe in these things, for it was a Gran Turismo coupe version by Bertone of the N.S.U. Prinz, and when we looked at the 600-c.c. o.h.c. twin-cylinder air-cooled engine we began to wonder, but then our gaze fell upon the ordinary box-like four-seater Prinz and minicars were out. On the Alpine stand we’re shown two of the Gran Turismo 4 c.v. Renault conversions, one a lovely scruffy looking one, just as it had finished the Tour de France driven by Michy and Ramband and the other a brand new and sleek version of the same thing. These little cars, with their plastic two-seater coupe bodies, are most pleasant and on the other side of the hall was an Italian version of the same thing that positively made the mouth water. This was the 750-c.c. Abarth-Zagato, built around Fiat 600 components, and it must surely be the fastest and smallest Gran Turismo car yet conceived. Carlo Abarth, of Turin, now has a twin overhead camshaft cylinder head to fit the basic Fiat block, the camshafts being driven by chain and there are two enormous double-choke downdraught Weber carburetters feeding into vertical inlet ports down the centre of the head, as on the old B.M.W. or the Lancia Aurelia. With the normal Abarth conversion of the pushrod 600 Fiat engine in the Zagato coupe these little cars are good for well over 90 m.p.h., so that more than the 100 should come up with the twin-cam engine. If we must have little motor cars then this Abarth-Zagato is the way to build them, and Mr. Bibendum was so impressed that he had made some special 135 by 305 Michelin ” X ” tyres for this little roadburner.
Whereas Maserati could always he relied upon to show a fierce sports car or a Grand Prix car, this year there were only two of the production 3.5-litre drophead coupes. which they refer to as Gran Turismo, but we consider to be “roadsters.” While on the subject of roadsters we admired an open two/four-seater DS19 Citroen with special body by Henri Chapron. having only two doors and being delightfully smooth and devoid a frills. Alfa-Romeo were, also exhibiting a new roadster, on the new 2,000 chassis, and it was a two-seater on the general lines of the Giulietta Spyder, but rather more ornate, and almost unnecessarily so when compared with ” little-sister.” As out-and-out sports cars, the British industry was well represented, with the twin-cam M.G., the open XK150 Jaguar, the Austin Healeys, Triumphs and the A.C. Bristol. There was a Le Mans DB open two-seater, a complete chassis of one of these cars, and the neat little production coupie with their perspex roofs and zip-fastened sun blinde on the inside. Facel Vega had a beautifully finished chassis on show, as well as the complete cars, and disc-brakes were being offered which should solve some of the problems concerned with this very high-performance luxury car. Having despaired of producing the Lago-Talbot with V-8 B.M.W. engine, as exhibited last year, the now rather old-fashioned coupes from Surenses were fitted with an even older engine, the 22-h.p. V-8 Ford from the dark ages. On the Rover stand there was a rather obvious gap just where we had hoped to see the new 3-litre Rover, but nearby were two sleek Ferraris to make up for it, these being 3-litre V-12 models, one roadster and one coupe, though rumour had it that a 4.9 Super America was on its way. Bristol were showing their 2.2-litre 406 model, announced some while ago, and the adjacent Porsche stand was most unimpressive; a Carrera looking rather like a Christmas tree, with Anterican-type chromium double bumpers, white-wall tyres and a rather flashy paint job, while the normal drophead coupe now has seats with fixed squabs, just when Jaguar, and many others are offering Reuter adjustable seats. This was clearly a Woolworth’s Porsche.”
There was nothing like the usual number of interesting mechanical exhibits, such as working models, engines, chassis and suspensions, nor were there any American Dream cars, but Peugeot had an excellent sectioned 403 engine and Renault had a Dauphine coming sideways down a snowy mountain in the Monte Carlo Rally, so realistic that we thought we noticed the snow melting as the crowds grew larger and raised the temperature of the Grand Palais. If nothing else, 1958 will mark an epoch in the history of Citroen, for the original type of Traction-Avant that has been a familiar face since 1935, has at last gone for good. All possible models are now to DS or ID specification, including the last word in practical shooting-brakes, and a diplomat’s car with a complete office in the back compartment. Of course; the little 2 C.V. is still about the place, but full production of Citroen has changed over to these two revolutionary vehicles in a surprisingly short space of time, indicating masterful planning and engineering.
Most years the Paris Salon has been well worth a visit, but this year we did not think so, there were interesting and nice cars, but the overall standard was not its usual height.
This left us a little sad, so the day after, on the Sunday of our Paris week-end. we went to Montlhory to see the Coupe du Salon meeting, but the rain poured down incessantly, the racing was dull, and our cup of despair filled to overflowing and splashed down into the puddles of rain. There was a match race between a collection of Panhard-engined “Monomills ” and a team of Italian Junior Formula cars, being publicised as a Franco-Italian duel, but it was won by a Portuguese driver! However, he was driving a Stanguellini which from a distance looks like a little Vanwall, and goes pretty fast, but the Monomills were their usual depressing selves. Then came a mixed Gran Turismo race which was enlivened by a brief duel between Bianchi, the co-driver to Genclehien in the Tour de France, driving the winning 250 G.T. Ferrari, and Schild. a Swiss driver in a similar car. Hicks kept his Lotus XI Grand Tourer (!) in fourth place, between Bourillot’s Ferrari and Jose Behra’s Porsche Carrera, which was a good effort in view of the wet conditions and the rest followed behind at varying intervals.
The race of the day for the Coupe du Salon was for Formula Il cars and saw Russell, Brabhum, Barclay, Ballisat, Vidilles. Marsh on Coopers, Buds with his Lotus and Parkes with the interesting and beautifully made Fry-Climax. Needless to say, all eight competitors were using twin-cam Climax engines. The Fry disappeared on the opening lap, Bach was left behind by the Coopers. and Russell, Brabham, Marsh and Vitiates had a good dice for a few laps. The race was over 20 laps of the 6.291 kilometre circuit. which does not include the steep twisty bits at the end of the Montlhery road circuit, and after Vidilles had gone off the road, and Marsh had retired Russell led Brabham by a comfortable distance with the remainder tailing along behind. Bueb retired and Ballisat was lapped, so that the race resolved into a drawn out procession with only four cars running, and Russell came home the winner.
It really is unfortunate that such a wonderful road circuit as Montlhery has to be wasted on small ” club-type ” meetings. but the Union Sportive Automobile, who run the Coupe du Salon, are a small concern who cannot afford to do more. If some of the money that is squandered at Reims and Le Mans could be put into the Montlhery road circuit and we had the French Grand Prix there, that race might regain its status as the oldest classic.
In teeming rain we joined the throng of traffic returning to Paris from its day out in the country, not at Montlhery, but down in the Loire valley, and early next morning in perfect weather conditions we flew back to London, the view of southern England and northern France at the same time from a height of 11,000 feet being truly wonderful, as was the sunshine that greeted us at. London Airport. -D.S.J
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