SHOWDOWN The Editor’s Annual Discourse on Topical Aspects of the Motoring Scene
TFIIS year we have produced Pre-Show and Post-Show issues of moTog svoRT, so this article becomes a miscellany of thoughts collected during the duration of the Earls Court Show instead of being written before its turnstiles began to revolve.
By now you have all heard of the little girl who was taken to the Show by her father and who, on leaving it, burst into tears. When these had been mopped up she explained that she hadn’t seen the animals. Questioned further, she said she had listened to her parents talking about Earls Court the day before and they kept referring to jaguars, tigers, hawks, greyhounds. spiders, snipes, larks, hornets and gazelles…. To which her father retorted that he had derived enjoyment from inspecting the latest super minx, while mother went to see a princess and the daffodils.
Which, although it is rumoured that tall and willowy young men are queuing up for the new Mini-Riley, makes me reflect that Italy manages to sell the 600D without calling it a Fiat Fairy. So it behoves us to look beyond fancy names and quadruple headlamps when attempting to assess the 1962 models.
I am not enthusiastic about motor exhibitions, although 1 realise that this admission stamps me as anti-social. It seems to me., however, that just as old automobiles are seen to greater advantage on the Brighton Run or at a V.S.C.C. or V.C.C. rally than in the confines of a museum, so modern motor cars are better running down the Corniche road into Nice, making up time on a rally or racing round Silverstone than they are standing mute in the glare of neon-lamps and high-pressure publicity on a motor show stand. And it seems odd that in London a great exhibition intended to increase the popularity and sales of motor cars should be staged at a place where it is so difficult to park a car that the majority of visitors arrive by train and Underground. . . .
MOTOR SPoar has a reputation for honest and out-spoken reporting and we have been accused of being unduly biased towards foreign cars. This year, Volvo, Simea, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen omitted to invite me to the parties they gave in their native lands when revealing their latest models, this presumably being the penalty I pay for being a fearless critic. Consequently I should feel entitled to turn my back on Continental cars, not in any spirit of retaliation, but because you cannot write about that which has been concealed from you…. Nevertheless, honesty compels me to consider whether British manufacturers are keeping pace with Common Market rivals in technical matters.
After all, this is A.n. 1961, the age of high scientific endeavour, reaching its peak with Sputniks, spacemen and the hydrogen bomb. It seems only right that we humble citizens, brothers who try to forget the bomb unless willing to squat for it, whose only outlet for hours spent in traffic tangles and diesel fumes is a dash up M i, should derive the greatest possible scientific benefits when WC go Motoring. Much as I admire and enjoy vintage motoring, It astonishes me that so many people who know nothing of the joys of low-speed long-stroke engines and right-hand control of “crash ” cog-boxes purchase ” vintage ” cars for everyday use. Can you, with 1962 round the corner, and practical four-wheeldrive round the next corner, consider a car that has an iron engine at the front behind a water radiator, driving through that anachronism the propeller shaft to a rigid back axle sprung on leaf-springs, anything but vintage ?
I am disturbed to find today’s automobile technicians taking great pains, even on 0-litre cars, to do away with the manual gear-change, which owners of VW, Porsche, M.O. and some other ears know to be one of motoring’s pleasures, while continuing to inflict on their clients power units far divorced from the wheels they drive, ” cart ” springing, and back axles which counteract the driver’s intentions in steering his car. My uncle Edgar and Stirling Moss can have automatic transmissions because they say they prefer them but I believe the majority of MOTOR SPorcr readers will join me in preferring to change gear when and as they like, using their hanA not their led, and who will certainly Put independent rear suspension, front-wheel-drive, rubber, oleopneumatic or torsion-bar suspension. and fuel injection, etc., before transmission automation—particularly as the elaborate gremlinism of the latter can he accomplished very simply, using belts. . . . Having written that. Desmond Scannell of Borg-Warner will never invite me to lunch ‘iiith him—or. b-ecatise he is an excellent
P.R.O., perhaps he will, in order tO convert me. Meanwhile, I am unrepentant; as I ant when accused of being too enthusiastic in respect of foreign cars, because I seem to remember learning in the dim and distant past something about ” we will only buy your coal and iron if you buy OUT wheat ” or words to that effect, And I assume, until 1 am corrected convincingly, that this is as true as ever, still applies to cars and the Common Market. .
I am encouraged to note that my friend Charles Bohner argues that the day of the cart-sprung rigid back axle is almost over, or should be. I know the argument that if socii an axle is properly located by radius rods, if it is constrained by an anti-roll bar or Panhard rod, if it is light on account of alloy housings, and if it is sprung on coil-springs or b rsion-bars, it is quite acceptable, Paee Alfa Romeo and Peugeot, etc. But toomany ” ifs ” are not Convincing. Moreover, whereas at one tim: oldstyle suspension may have sufficed for smooth British ror.ds, it is no longer adequate for cars that have stiff competition to meet in Common Market countries. Since the war many English families, on a rising tide of prosperity (now, alas, being whittled down by savage taxation and strikes), have spent motoring holidays abroad and have thus seen for themselves that ” vintage ” cars are unable to compete with Continental designs over pave or at the high speeds necessitated by the great distances to be covered, speeds which, on the new roads of Britain promised by Mr. Marples, have become a necessity at home. So I am glad that, in his erudite article on design in the London Show Guide issue of The Motor. Bulmer states : ” There is a considerable School of thought that ordinary live back axles, perhaps with more positive location, have many more years of useful life, but I find it difficult to subscribe to this theory.”
So the first thing we enthusiasts must do to encourage technical initiative and set the car-buying public a lead in parting front ” vintage ” cars, is to ignore vehicles with cart-sprung rigid back axles. This means turning our backs on all the B.M.C. models of over 1-litre capacity, on all the Fords, on every Rootes model and all the Vauxhalls. It means eschewing the delectable bigger Fiats, all except the rear-engined Simca, the Volvo and Humbert, Rovers and Rolls-Royce, as well as some very nice sports cars. But if you believe most makers stick to the rigid axle and leafsprings for economic reasons or lack of ” know-how ” this is the policy you should pursue; if I am wrong in this assumption, MoToa Srota’s correspondence columns are open to those P.R.O.s who wish to defend the antiquated aspects of their company’s cars. Frazer Nash, Lagonda and Lancia for the Flaminia, and Warwick (on cart springs!) go to the expense of de Dion back axles but recent racing points to i.r.s. being preferable, so you may decide to rule out these makes also. Those who subscribe to my theory can buy Triumph Herald, Mercedes-Benz, Pontiac, Skoda and Jaguar Mk. X amongst family-type cars of medium or spacious size. Unless, of course, they agree that the propeller shaft, too, belongs to the past and that the weight of the engine should be close to the driving wheels, when choice whittles down to front-drive cars like Citroen, AustinMini, Morris-Mini, Auto Union, Cooper-Mini, Saab, D.B., Lancia Flavia, Panhard, Renault 4, Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet, or the rear-engined offerings of Abarth,. Autobianchi, Chevrolet
Corvair, Fiat, Goggomobil, Isetta, N.S.U., Porsche,. Renault, the new Simca woo, and Volkswagen, with the proviso that Saab and Auto Union employ a dead-beam back axle with f.w.d. (the former on coil springs, the latter on torsion bars on the Junior, a transverse leaf-spring On the bigger models), as does Lancia. using half-elliptic leaf-springs, and D.B. and Panhard using torsion bars.
After that it becomes a case of personal preferences in respect of Valve gear, light-alloy engines, cylinder arrangement and cooling, suspension mediums, disc brakes, quality finish and all the other items of specification that are still fluid and contribute to the fascinating technical variety of present-day cars. I had intended to draw up a series of tables to indicate the proportion of initiative under these different headings of the various European countries, but the above lists show clearly enough that such initiative is with Europe rather than Britain, in spite of the many so-called new models from our factories that were billed far and wide as a significant feature of the London Show. In any case, taken on sales instead of specifications, we know that Europe’s best seller is the Volkswagen, which gives a comfortable lead to an air-cooled, largely-light-alloy flat-four engine and torsion-bar suspension, which overthrows at one sweep ” cart-leaf” springs, beam axles, the .prop.-shaft and a
water radiator, and provides the maximum of traction from a car with the drive on two of its four wheels.
Whether you agree with America going .along with Britain politically and militarily, she does so in respect of vintage aspects of automobile engineering, for only one model of Chevrolet has a ” dry ” engine, and prop.-shafts prevail, although the aforesaid Corvair has none and Pontiac has contrived to introduce a kink into the thing, in conjunction with coil-sprung independent (” transaxle “) rear suspension.
Taking all, or almost all, things into consideration I have no hesitation in saving that the OS CitroiM remains the World’s most modern car and that Alec Issigonis’ ” trans-engine ” f.w.d. rubbersuspended AD015 and AD05o designs are by far the most advanced of the miniature cars.
Car buyers should hasten the departure of those items of specification which were tine when the Sixty Mercedes was a new car but which are unnecessary and out-dated today. They might also eschew cars with multiple greasing points, in the reduction of which Rover and Triumph Herald are notable pioneers, Vauxhall now following suit, while the f.w.d. Renaults have got rid of the greasing routine entirely. If this shocks you I can only ask, have you a radio ? And if so, does it have a crystal detector and a separate-horn loudspeaker ? Good motoring!—W. B.
V-E-V Odds & Ends, April 1984
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