Looking at the London Motor Show
SENSATIONS preceded the 1961 Earls Court Show. On the eve of opening day Sir Reginald Rootes sacked 8,000 workers as a result of the Acton strike and announced that his company had ceased to exist—although we were glad to see that all his stands at the Show were fully occupied. Then at the B.M.C. Press Lunch Richard Dimbleby came in for strong criticism, Mr. Harriman saying ” Please, please Mr. Dimblcby don’t denigrate the British image, especially on the eve of our Motor Show,” the B.B.C.’s ” Panorama ” programme, in which emphasis was made to the drop in our export sales to the U.S.A. from 8o% to s% in the past year and where a VW r5ola was given prominence, having obviously upset the British Motor Corporation’s Chairman. . . .
Although this report will not appear until November tst, I am writing it on the Shaw’s Opening Day because our printing presses are not as rapid as, say, a jaguar E-type; what follows are quick stand-by-stand impressions.
B.M.C. introduced the new Wolseley Hornet and Riley Elf Minis, with traditional radiator grilles somewhat hampering accessibility and enlarged luggage boots, the rather costly Riley having a proper facia with cubby-holes, in place of the Mini’s big shelf, and high-class ulaliolstery. It is a very well-balanced , looking little saloon. Incidentally, it is called an Elf and not an Imp only because there is already a commercial vehicle of that name; the Riley stand had colour illustrations of such nostalgic models as the Imp, M.P.H., etc. Whether manly types will order Elves and (D.A.F.) Daffodils remains to be seen! With B.M.C. listing eight variants on the highly successful Mini theme, Zagato added another, a handsome white 4-seater G.T. coupe with roomy boot, on a Mini-van chassis.
A “Lawrence Tune” engine was on the Morgan stand, the twin Webers calling for a power-bulge on the Plus Four’s bonnet; a coupe Plus Four was exhibited wearing Morgan 4/4 and Morgan Plus Four badges.
The splendid rally victories of the big Austin Healey were emphasised by an Alpine setting for Alpine Rally car No. 146, Lotus showed an “exploded ” Elite to remind you that this G.T. coupe is now available to handymen as a rather costly box-of-bits, and Fairthorpe bits, even to chrome embellishments, were strewn about that stand.
A new sports car was the Reliant Sabre, of which the back axle in the high old-fashioned box-section frame was described as “located by modified Watti linkage.” The technical pundits say it needs a good deal more modification before it will be any good. . . . Never mind, there is always one dud at every show— last year it was the Lea-Francis. An enormous crowd round the Harrington Sunbeam Alpine coupe with “Le Mans” written on it suggested this one must be a hit but the cause was soon seen to be a miss—a very nice brunette in a very brief bikini. . . .
Saab showed a body shell, which enabled one to sec how well the rear beam axle is located—but why a beam at all, with f.w.d. ?
Those who went to Earls Court to see the rear-engined Simca or very well spoken of 2-litre Porsche Carrera were disappointed, but Abarth had a standful of highly delectable products, including the twin-cam Bialbero coupe with light-alloy wheels—prices on application, as they wed to say of the more impressive stage illusions. I saw a girrin a crash-hat in a Sunbeam Rapier—surely it isn’t all that dangerous even if the steering is spongy ? Panharcl, too, had walled-in their “Tiger “—another dangerous one? I first came face-to-face with the new Goodyear fluorescent tyres (red) on a Dodge Dart 441 but they had vanished before Opening Day. They were also on a Ford Consul Classic but no-one seemed to know how they work; like whitewalls, they don’t make a car go any better. . . .
It was curious to find the R.-R. and Bentley stands divorced, and standing humbly in the corners of the hall—a gesture of distaste, perhaps, for the Chancellor’s 42,000 expense-account limit. Lancia showed a ‘Flavin f.w.d. power unit, using a transverse leaf front spring and wishbones and, curiously, equipped with a French Gemmer steering box. The new Fiat 1300 was the star of its stand but a I too Special was also on show. The twin-cam cabriolet was again absent, although in the catalogue, but Fiat small cars were in splendid array, a 499-c.c. Giardiniera station wagon, a 767-c.c. Multipla
taxi in Milan taxi colours, and the 600D saloon—and I know one famous pre-war designer who uses one of the last named and says its headroom is greater than that of the British Mini. Studebaker had a solid pre-war radiator grille on the Hawk, while the Lark front looked like someone was thinking of Stuttgart. Sunbeam proudly listed race and rally successes and showed an opened-up Alpine engine. This gives 85i b.h.p. at s000 r.p.m. from 1,592 c.c. and brings respect for the new r,508-c.c. Vauxhall VX 4/90 for which Si b.h.p. at 5,200 r.p.m. is claimed. Vauxhall are insistent that this isn’t a sports or even a sporting car, and certainly it is a full 4/5-seater saloon with neat shallow facia in imitation grain with fillets to match, well shaped seats in the latest
plastic, and neat colour schemes, but with twin Zenith carburetters, alloy head, 9.3-to-i compression-ratio, 5-stud wheels., stiffened suspension, 4-speed gearbox with floor lever, tachometer, a special exhaust system, 4.125-tot back axle, 5.6o x 14 tyres (5.60 K 13 on the normal Victor) and Lockheed disc front brakes, it represents excellent value at 4971 tax paid. A very big selling point is that there are but fonr points to grease, at intervals of 12,000 miles. Compare with the 8o1 b.h.p., 44,029. 2-door Sunbeam Rapier.
Rover contented themselves with just a small picture of their T4 gas-turbine saloon but Chrysler had the Turboflite ” ideacar ” there in the metal, its engine reminiscent of a washing machine, the main headlamps jacking up into the body “to improve aerodynamics” (a suspect statement, as the front tyres are immediately behind these lamps), while manual propping of the bonnet on such a futuristic beast seems oddly out of concept.
I prefer numbers to silly names for cars but Ford go in for both, their huge stand having excellent representation of Consul Classic 315, Consul 375 and Capri 335, surely an odd sequence. Last year, Buick and Oldsmobile light-alloy V8 compact engines were a thrill and although the very promising new cast-iron Buick V6 was not at Earls Court, Rambler showed the die-cast block or their in-line” Classic 6.”
Stacks of luggage including a folding pram were stacked inside an f.w.d. Renault 4. and taken out again by a blonde and a brunette— this is a car on which all grease points have been abolished. Ferrari had a 2+2 with smooth new treatment of the tali said to forecast their 1962 G.T. body shape, and the rear-engined aircooled Chevrolet Corvair flat-six was notably attractive as the Monza goo 2-door club coupe.
Jaguar again produced the star exhibit in the Mk. X, a highspeed luxury saloon (C2,392) that makes the new Lagonda Rapide at 45,251 and the Bristol 407 at £5,141 seem fabulously expensive. But there is great appeal about the V8 Daimler Majestic Major, which devours motorways at some 120 m.p.h. and can accelerate in a manner that makes a Mit. X’s haddes rise (for only £3,082— Sir William Lyons’ genius again). Even the truly spacious Majestic limousine does some Ito m.p.h. and costs under ‘4,000. It even has a tachometer, just like a sports car. Citron shows the most modern of them all, its appeal enhanced by power brakes on. the ID. The restyled N.S.U. Prinz is an o.b.c. baby with a spacious body, not quite so handsome as the far more expensive B.M.W. 700—both small cars of interest to individualists. What is a Zaporogets ? It’s a Russian 748-c.c. air-cooled rear-engined yee-four saloon, such is the technical variety that was a feature of the Earls Court Show.—W. B.