THE Guild of Motoring Writers Test Day provides an opportunity for foreign journalists to sample the newest British cars while they are here for the London Show. It also enables our motoring writers to refresh their memories of cars already tested and try briefly the latest models. The whole thing is admirably staged at Goodwood, by kind consent of the Duke of Richmond and Gordon and beautiful October weather is invariably laid on. This year there were 113 vehicles to sample, from Jaguar E-type to a Land-Rover open truck—all British built. All were using Shell or B.P. fuel. This excellent Show-time institution has been held 15 times; each time one is a year older, and one’s top speed down Lavant straight seems to drop a few m.p.h. as a reminder . . . Cars are obtained for these bijou 7.2-mile tests by applying for the appropriate number-disc at the Paddock office; as with women, you do not always get the one you desire. What follows are impressions of those cars which came the way of the Editor and his assistant :—
The first car I sampled was a Morris 1100, to play myself in. I had a nice smooth run in it, one of the safest, most responsive cars on the circuit. Next I bagged a Ford Consul Cortina in which I rolled round the corners with tyres protesting. The engine was impressively lively. A Triumph Herald 1200 convertible ran nice and smoothly and handled well. The pedals, were noticeably off-set after the other two cars and the very new engine fluffed a bit on pick-up once or twice.
The Triumph TR4 hard-top with its big wheels and “power bulge” before the driver is an impressive sports car, but the driving seat wouldn’t adjust to my liking, the steering is a bit spongy and this is a car which took more getting used to than 3 laps of Goodwood provided. 5,000 r.p.m. came up in 3rd gear. I followed this with an Austin Mini-Cooper, now with de luxe interior, and the greatest fun to drive. The controls and steering are so light and responsive, of which I was glad when a Volvo P.1800 got in the way of a Jaguar E-type in front of me at St. Mary’s.
The Lawrence-tuned Morgan Plus Four super sports hardtop is a real motor-car! Stiff suspension and high-geared steering is its recipe for very safe handling and the gear-change (Moss cogs) is man’s stuff. Performance—more than I cared to use, although it left a Police Zephyr behind! This put me in a mood for Sports Cars, so I took out an M.G. Midget. It proved disappointing, for the steering kicked excessively (could the new disc front brakes affect it or did the wheels need balancing?), there was bonnet flexion and the car tended to weave. So to a Morgan 4/4 Series IV with Cosworth-tuned Ford Classic engine. It proved light on the controls, smooth and docile, went extremely well and was essentially safe. I would like a tachometer and a normal, instead of pull-push gear lever. After these sports cars a Vauxhall VX 4/90 felt soggy, with vague steering and roll oversteer. But it has a nice air of luxury and did 5,500 r.p.m. in 3rd free of vibration. The Daimler SP250 hard-top was spoilt by heavy, “dead ” steering, a gear change that was horrid and harsh unless the clutch pedal was pressed down about a mile, and vibration up the chassis on the over run. It also smelt of fibre-glass. But there was lots of very real urge from the peppy V8 engine.
We are still waiting for the promised road test M.G. 1100, so I thought a little drive in one was indicated. What a very pleasant car it is! The facia panel and big lidded cubby hole distinguish it from its companion Morris 1100 and the interior is dignified and practical. The ribbon speedometer indicated 70 in 3rd and cornering and comfort are superb. The bonnet flexed, however, so that I thought it hadn’t been shut properly. Even better, with more performance, was the Downton Morris 1100. It was on chunky Dunlop SP tyres and had twin H2 S.U.s, 9.5 to 1 c.r., a balanced engine with flowed head, and a special exhaust system. These Downton “goodies” make it go but have not spoilt the quiet, smooth running, which is an outstanding characteristic of the Morris 1100. The rev.-limit was six-eight. Enormous fun!
I concluded a baker’s dozen with a Triumph Vitesse convertible, that felt a bit high and narrow, had a wooden facia, a very easy gear change with usable high 3rd gear, but steering that became heavy against a pronounced underateer. —W.B.
The Downton tuned Morris 1100 was my first car of the day and a very safe one to start with. Daniel Richmond had worked his magic on the Morris 1100 with twin S.U.s modified cylinder head and one or two other bits and pieces which cost £84 in all and as we discovered gave an unruffled indicated 70 m.p.h. in 3rd gear and an unknown top speed because the needle went off the end of the scale of the standard speedometer on Lavant Straight. Mr. Richmond tells us that it will do 95 m.p.h. and it does this in comparitive silence. T’he handling is everything we have come to expect of the Morris 1100 improved somewhat by Dunlop SP braced tread tyres which are now to be sold in the U.K. Why buy an M.G. 1100?
Next on my list was the Triumph Vitesse. The idea of a 6-cylinder engine in the Herald-type chassis seems to work well. Although the engine does not have as much power as one would expect, the Vitesse will show an indicated 80 m.p.h. in 3rd and go up to over 90 in top gear. The test car may have hit a kerb during its previous runs or had out of balance wheels but the car pulled to the left quite strongly. The handling needs careful watching on the circuit and when we entered St. Mary’s quickly in 3rd gear on one occasion the rear end came round rather sharply and when normal counter steering was applied the rear wheels tucked under and juddered across the smooth tarmac, but the slide was halted without too much drama. The larger engine restricts foot room on the driver’s side so that the feet are biased to the right but one soon becomes accustomed to this.
Another Daniel Richmond tuned car came along next, this being the Cooper-Mini with the full “works.” In recent tests Mr. Richmond claims to have timed the car at 118 m.p.h. with a 0-60 m.p.h. time of 6.5 sec. Its performance on the circuit was spoiled by clutchslip, a perennial problem on highly tuned ADO 15 engines, but even with a slipping clutch the Cooper-Mini wound itself up to over 100 m.p.h. on Lavant straight and Daniel Richmond seemed unconcerned at a 6,800 r.p.m. rev. limit although he admits that much above this speed will eventually cause the crankshaft to disintigrate.
The performance of the Jaguar E-type can really be put to use on the circuit, the major portion of each lap being covered in 3rd gear which will encompass 110 m.p.h. at its 5,500 r.p.m. rev. limit. The handling of the E-type is a joy, the braking sure and the steering light and accurate. What more could anyone ask?
A pretty yellow Riley Elf caught my eye in the Paddock and as it had been worked over by Frank Webb of Nerus Engineering it looked as if it might be more interesting than usual. In actual fact it had only a carefully modified cylinder head with an 8.9 : compression ratio against the standard 8.3 : 1. This modification which can be obtained for £21 15s. is just about enough to bring the performance of the heavier Elf back up to normal Mini standards with a claimed 0-60 m.p.h. in 22.8 sec, and a top speed of 74 m.p.h. although we could only get an indicated 70 m.p.h. on Lavant Straight. The gearbox of this car seemed to be a great improvement over previous Minis we have tried.
The sumptuous Mk. X Jaguar in a beautiful shade of blue attracted many a stare and on the circuit it proved to be no disapointment although the Borg Warner transmission stifled much of the performance. By using the intermediate hold switch good acceleration can be obtained in the middle of the three gears but the automatic transmission was not really suited for circuit work and in any case no one would be cruel enough to use the Mk. X on the track would they? A fair amount of roll is apparent but the Mk. X handles well and the independent rear suspension will obviously prove beneficial on poor surfaces.
The Daimler 2½ litre saloon is of course the Jaguar Mk.II fitted with the SP 250 Daimler V8 engine. This is mated to the Borg Warner Type 35 automatic transmission which does not endear itself to the enthusiast as for maximum performance one must start in “Low” then change to “Drive” then back to “Low” to hold the middle gear. This can be held to around 70 m.p.h. before one must change back to “Drive” again. With its lighter weight the V8 engine suits the Jaguar chassis and endows it with remarkably fine road-holding. This marriage of Daimler and Jaguar seems to be a happy one; what fun it would be with the Daimler 4-speed transmission!
The Vantage Aston Martin DB4 has the 331 b.h.p. G.T. engine in the DB4 four-seater body and the performance reflects this. With an easy 100 m.p.h. in 3rd and 120 m.p.h. in top gear before shutting off for Woodcote the Aston certainly kept us concentrating. Compared with the E-type the Aston perhaps does not handle as well and has heavier steering but it scores on its superior seats (and has four of them!) and general air of high quality which is of course reflected in the price. A very desirable car indeed.
Next on our list was M.G.s successor to the M.G.-A. The M.G.-B handles in a very similar fashion to the M.G.-A and one feels at home immediately, being able to throw the car at corners without wondering if the back end will come round. It corners flatly, has good brakes, accelerates briskly, looks good and is great fun to drive. As “Which?” might say, “highly recommended.”
The Lotus Elite with Hobbs Mech-a-Matic automatic gearbox which is familiar on the race tracks of Britain and the Continent, is quite fantastic. An out and out competition car with 100 b.h.p. Climax engine is not normally the easiest car to drive with ordinary four-speed transmission but the Hobbs gearbox tames the peaky engine without robbing it of power and enables the veriest novice to drive the Elite. The gear lever can be left in the fully automatic position if desired or as is more probable with the enthusiastic driver he can select any of the four ratios at will by means of the central lever. Changes go through with only a light jerk, saving quite a lot of time over the normal “clutch out, change gear, clutch in” routine on normal transmissions. Our three laps in the Hobbs Elite were fascinating to say the least and unless there is some hidden snag which we are too dim to see it is quite inconceivable to us why this automatic gearbox has not been adopted by manufacturers.
The Triumph Spitfire is obviously going to hit at the Sprite/ Midget market as it offers independent suspension, front disc brakes and 64 b.h.p. for £729. The Michelotti styling is attractive and as several million dollars worth have been ordered for the United States its success is assured. It accelerates reasonably briskly, has a pleasant gearbox, good brakes and handles well, although breaking away fairly early, albeit in a controllable fashion.
My last car of the day turned out to be the Speedwell Sprite with 80 b.h.p. 1100 c.c. engine. This engine is meticulously built and in consequence costs some £200. However, it will rev. to 7,000 r.p.m. in complete smoothness, giving the Speedwell car most un-Sprite like performance, the speedometer registering over 100 m.p.h. with comparitive ease. Some modifications have been made to the steering to make it even lighter and this leads to a slight tendency to directional instability. All in all a pleasant busman’s holiday for journalists which was concluded in appropriate fashion when a journalist managed to spin the Rolls-Royce at Madgwick! Rather like a battleship in a heavy sea! M.L.T.