Although its products won the CART and Japanese F3000 titles last season, 1991 wasn't a…
To those not interested in motoring, Paris in the spring is the attraction of the French capital, to bathe in the warm sunshine, but this time the sunshine in autumn was beyond all expectation, so that the motoring fraternity were able to warm, if not burn, their candles at both ends. As is usual, the beginning of October saw the Paris Salon or Motor Show opening at the traditional Grande Palais, and for the journalist a day of dicing round the full Montlhery road circuit with the latest products of the French motor industry. For the sporting types there was a race meeting at Montlhery on Sunday, October 4th, with Gran Turismo races and a Formula 2 event, so that all tastes were catered for, a thing for which Paris is noted.
The sunshine and the Champs-Elysee were impeccable, the Salon was not particularly outstanding, the test-driving day was amusing, and the race meeting almost boring, but, nevertheless, the sum total was satisfying as an end to the European season of sport. The French industry has become very settled in its manufacturing of cars for the populace, each big manufacturer seemingly having one part of the potential market well under his control, Citroen catering for the top and bottom of the populace with the DS19 and 2 c.v., Peugeot with their range of 403 models satisfying the connoisseur of limited means, and Simca with their vast range of models from economic 1,100-c.c. saloon to s.v. V8 catching the more mundane and mere travellers of France, while Renault complete the market with attractions especially for the small-car populace, and Panhard attract those who want something with a difference. In consequence it is left to small manufacturers to provide new innovations, and this year Facel Vega stole the show with their brand new Facellia. Based on a chassis designed from knowledge gained with the now popular HK500 Facel Vega, having i.f.s. but one-piece rear axle, this new car has a four-cylinder engine of 1,600 c.c. with twin-overhead camshafts, and double carburetters, coupled to a four-speed-and-reverse Pont-a-Mousson-built gearbox. Dunlop disc brakes are used and the model exhibited was a drophead 2/4-seater, characteristically Facel Vega in appearance and finish. It is hoped that this new model, which will cost less than a Porsche 1600 or Alfa-Romeo Giulietta in France, will be in full production by next February, and later a competition Gran Turisino version is to be built. The 1,600-c.c. engine is claimed to give 115 b.h.p. at 7,000 r.p.m., so that a light G.T. coupe should prove pretty exciting.
Having produced the same old cars at the Salon for many years past, Lago-Talbot this year exhibited the most remarkable and impracticable aero-dynamic two-seater with Perspex “bubble-top” in the nature of an American dream car. Raymond Loewy, who always produces something special for the Salon, this year built a special Cadillac coupe which impressed more as an industrial design than automobile engineering, while Pinin Farina, another regular at Paris, exhibited a most elegant Cadillac that showed American designers that there was no need to make their cars look the way they do. This year there was a noticeable lack of exhibits from obscure automobile manufacturing countries, such as we have seen in the past when Japan, East Germany, Argentina and so on have had stands, while non-existent — apart from one small stand — were the “funnies,” those one-off Salon “specials” that are always so amusing. For the rest of the world, Germany, Italy, America, Sweden and Great Britain showed the best they have, which are dealt with in the Earls Court review or elsewhere.
With sunny skies outside there was little or no enthusiasm for remaining in the Grande Palais for long, but it was nice to see some “used” cars on show, notably the World Champion sports car, a DBR1/300 Aston Martin on the factory stand, along with two immaculate G.T. Aston Martins, the Touring category winner of the Tour de France, the 3.4-litre Jaguar driven by da Silva Ramos and Estager, looked very tired, with its bald tyres, alongside the smart new Jaguar models and a very battered N.S.U. Prinz that had been on its roof during the Tour de France, survived, and completed the course. On the way out to the autumn sunshine and fresh air a pause was made to admire the splendid working “transparent” model of the Rootes Group’s fascinating “multi-fuel” engine, a supercharged two-stroke horizontal three-cylinder with opposed pistons and enormous rockers converting the piston movement into crankshaft rotation. This commercial engine runs on any fuel from paraffin to “Avgas,” and is a fine example of engine design and freedom of thought. Also, the Renault Dauphine demonstration was pondered upon, this comprising three Dauphines with “Aerostable” suspension fixed by radial arms to a turn-table so that they revolved round a circular track covered with bumps and hollows, thus convincing anyone on the “merry-go-round” free trips of the smoothness of “Aero-stable.” Fixing the Dauphines rigidly to a centre pivot seemed a good idea, for that way they could not loop-the-loop
Arriving at Montlhery, still in glorious sunshine, an exploratory lap of the exciting road circuit revealed a Renault Floride just back on its wheels after having bounced on its roof, the luckless Swiss journalist who inverted it looking somewhat crestfallen. Needless to say, it was not long before a Dauphine went end-over-end into the trees, and later in the afternoon the back-end on another Dauphine was seen coyly peeping from the bushes. It was obvious that this test day was a repeat of last year, especially as all the cars available seemed unchanged, so bearing in mind our readers’ wishes a Dyna-Panhard was driven for a couple of laps. Last year’s Dyna was a nasty vicious over-steerer, but this year’s model, though looking the same, was completely different and surprisingly safe. I cannot say that I enjoyed the heavy steering, nor the horrid gear-changing mechanism, while the mass of plastic forming the steering-column mounting still makes me sick, but there did not seem to be anything wrong with the handling, apart from it being front-wheel drive, so perhaps last year’s model was a bad one. I was so impressed by the change that I volunteered to try the hot one, the new Tigre model, with h.c. engine and modified tappet gear, which I was told would rev. to 5,800 r.p.m., and, in fact, the demonstrator insisted that I kept it wound up all the time in the gears. This I did and the performance was truly remarkable for such a large car with such a tiny two-cylinder engine. It indicated 130 k.p.h. in third gear and held 140 k.p.h. all round the banking, and felt very safe. Inquiries as to how the car had been changed from last year revealed nothing very definite, except that “the oversteer has been reduced considerably” — I thought it had been reduced completely. It seems that the Tigre uses tyre pressures of 17 lb./sq. in. at the front and 23 lb./sq. in. at the rear, which would certainly help to make things better. In spite of all this I would not like to own a Dyna-Panhard as my standards of steering and gear-changing are of too high a value, maybe because I have been spoilt, but once you have experienced gearboxes such as Ferrari, Maserati, Porsche RSK, Porsche Carrera and Colotti Tec-Mec, the best in production is barely good enough.
In order that I should not become biased about F.W.D., I then tried a DS19, on which there is little to say; it does not need changing so why change it, and a mere two laps of the 12-kilometre road circuit explained why the salesmen at the Salon were leaning nonchalantly on the various DS and ID models while connoisseurs and critics were buzzing round the rear-engined Chevrolet Corvair, the B.M.C. Mini cars, the new Ford Anglia and so on. The DS19 appeared so long ago I almost forget the exact date. I then drove a 2 c.v. Citroen just for fun, because they really are nice little things and cars are like people, you can stand the most objectionable character providing he has a sense of humour, and I can stand the most absurd motor vehicle providing it has a sense of humour, and the 2 c.v. certainly has that; it seems to chuckle to itself all the time, especially when the driver does silly things and discovers just how safe and foolproof it is.
Returning to normality, I tried a 403 Peugeot again, which I still rate as the best all-round economic buy in France, an unassuming car that does what it’s designed to do without any fuss or bother, and does it so well that there is no need to make any changes, though I still cannot enjoy steering-column gear levers. As an interesting addition to the 403 range Peugeot now market a diesel version of their splendid four-cylinder push-rod engine, and had I not been told beforehand I doubt whether I would have realised that it was a diesel, it was so quiet, smooth and flexible.
Before the day ran out and they were all inverted, I tried a Renault Dauphine-Gordini, with more steam than the normal Dauphine and a four-speed gearbox. The gearbox felt very good but gear-changing was spoilt by a horrid linkage mechanism to the “knitting-needle”-like gear-lever on the floor that transmitted all the movements of the rear suspension and engine/gearbox suspension to your hand just as you were doing a “knife-through-butter” act, which spoilt everything. I did not dare to let the oversteer develop as I was much too nervous of the consequences, but I did not have confidence in the handling and felt positively miserable flat out off the banking. An open Renault Floride, the development of the Dauphine, felt a lot better, but you had to work much too hard on the corners to justify the resultant cornering power. Where the fascination lies in the Dauphine to justify the eulogies that some people shower on them I have yet to discover, except that the Press Department and hospitality of Renault is second only to Daimler-Benz I am told, and only a mean b — would be rude to such wonderful hosts. I tried a 4 c.v. Renault, the old original rear-engined baby-car, and though it needed working hard it was fun, like the 2 c.v. Citroen the 4 c.v. Renault has a definite sense of humour and I can be tolerant of its shortcomings. I also tried a competition version known as the Alpine Renault, and this buzzed merrily along, reaching around 90 m.p.h., but was completely spoilt by a gear-change linkage to the four-speed gearbox way at the back that was so bad I came to rest with a guilty feeling that I had broken something. However, after trying again and using lots of force it began to work after a fashion, but it was not a gear-change to use if you could get by in top gear.
This year the Show model D.B. Panhard coupe was available to drive, but still having vivid memories of the ride that Gerard Laureau gave me last year I refrained from driving it. It was like having been driven at ten-tenths by Moss in a 4.5-litre Maserati V8, you know any attempt you make yourself with the car will be pathetic in comparison; so I felt about driving the hot D.B. coupe, for Laureau had impressed me that a D.B. cannot be driven any closer to the limit, and it was incredible.
Returning to Montlhery on the Sunday for the Coupe du Salon, the weather was still superb, so that sun-bathing made up for the rather dull race meeting. In the G.T. race Bianchi was a non-starter with Gendebien’s Tour de France-winning Ferrari 250 G.T. having burnt a piston in practice, and Noblet broke his gearbox early on in the race, so the Swiss driver Schild had a walkover with his 250 G.T. In the 1,300-c.c. category Hicks and Lefebvre had a race-long dice with their Lotus Elevens, which Hicks won, though it looked like a sports-car race to me, as I think an Elite is the only Gran Turismo car that Lotus make, but maybe I am old-fashioned. The Formula 2 race had Schell, Lewis, Campbell-Jones and Henry Taylor finishing in that order in Coopers, after Taylor had dropped from second place with gear-lever trouble on the United Racing Stable’s car, and a very slow Frenchman finished last. Bianchi crashed the Equipe Belge’s Cooper on the first corner and Gibson retired his Cooper with a puncture, while the only non-Cooper in the race was Hick’s early Lotus F.2, which went out with transmission trouble.
On the Monday morning, when the Porsche was headed out of Paris to complete the European season and return home, the sun was still shining and Paris in the autumn could not be bettered.
Coupe Du Salon — Formula 2 — 26 Laps — 163 Kilometres
1st: H. Schell (Cooper-Climax), 1 hr. 03 min. 57.4 sec. — 153.451 k.p.h.
2nd: J. Lewis (Cooper-Climax).
3rd: J. Campbell-Jones (Cooper-Climax).
4th: H. Taylor (Cooper-Climax).
5th: R. Collomb (Cooper-Climax).
Fastest lap: H. Schell (Cooper-Climax), 2 min. 24.1 sec. — 157.170 k.p.h. (new record).
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