Where are we?

The Editor's Annual Discourse on Topical Aspects of the Motoring Scene

Do many motorists, in these days of powerful 4-cylinder cars, ever regret their earlier mounts ? Personally, I still remember, with affection, a light, single-cylinder car, which served me well: a small Renault, fitted with a 9-h.p. de Dion engine. Reliability and small upkeep-cost were its features. With a little care, outer covers lasted quite twelve months. The consumption of petrol was reasonable, frequently thirty miles on a gallon; a small reservoir of lubricating oil sufficed for a hundred miles. Its automatic inlet-valve never got clogged; the exhaust-valve never required grinding. With but one plug to clean, the penalty for over-lubrication was a light one. Road stops were infrequent, and seldom took more than a few minutes. A trifle noisy, maybe, especially on the 1st and 2nd speeds, but a willing worker—never failing to carry four people over all sorts of country; geared to touch thirty miles on the level, its average, with a full load, was invariably just round twenty miles an hour. That car never had a day's illness, and one was hardly aware of the existence of the clutch, gearbox, and back axle.

The time came, of course, when, despising the trusty, handy single-cylinder, one passed quickly through the 2-cylinder stage, and became the proud possessor of the fashionable 4-cylinder. Remembering how economical and easy to keep in order the little car was, sometimes one doubts whether the bigger car has many material advantages, especially in the case of the man who has no chauffeur. The even turning movement of four pistons does admittedly attract. Just a flutter, as of many sparrows, is all that comes from the bonnet, but there is not much else; eight mechanically operated valves require keeping clean; there are four plugs to cause trouble; sometimes there is a difficulty in getting the four cylinders to fire in time; engine troubles take longer to locate; running expenses are, of course, much heavier; while one goes a little faster, the tyres wear out so much sooner that road delays, due to the capricious pneumatic, are more frequent.

The unfashionable single cylinder was harder to drive; the little available power necessitated care.  Jumping in the clutch meant another turn of the starting handle. To climb well required careful use of the gas-tap as you approached the gradient. the advance spark wanted judgement. In fact one was always on the qui vive to help your little engine with just the right amount of gas, spark advance and lubricating oil. But that necessity for judgement gave to driving half its charm. Nowadays, the lazy man and the unskilful man may sit at the wheel of the big 4-cylinder. A gear-driven lubricator, once adjusted, requires no attention; the magneto, doubtless the coming form of ignition, has, on the most up-to-date models, no advance - the rising and falling voltage of the spark automatically regulating the time of the explosion. On the car I have at present there is no gas-tap either, an automatic carburettor regulating its own air. the driver, in fact, has nothing to do but open or close the throttle. 

Theoretically, of course, it is right; there is no room for mistake, everything is automatic - the human element has been largely eliminated. But things automatic tend to become uninteresting. The automatic perfection that is now approaching may seriously diminish the pleasure that many motorists derive from being at the wheel. The next year or two will inevitably produce a practically perfect car. Nothing will be allowed to go wrong; there will be positively nothing to do. The engine will start itself, time its own spark to perfection, oil itself without fear of any mistake and regulate its mixture correctly. There is already a device for making the motor pump up the tyres; if some inventor will arrange for the engine to repair punctures, correct skids, grind in valves, operate the brakes by compressed air, and indicate the presence of a police trap, the motor millenium will have arrived. But this perfection will rob the wheel of half its charm. It will be too easy; there will be no scope for talent. Driving and sitting in the tonneau will be much the same thing.  [Reprinted by kind permission of the Tatler & Bystander.]

THE comments which head this article were brought to my attention by a reader; they appeared in The Bystander over the name of Alfred C. Hunter as long ago as 1905. If that writer was troubled about motoring becoming soft and driving ceasing to be sport 57 years ago I feel I have every reason to express similar concern in A.D. 1962.

Cars Worth Driving

The Bystander's correspondent did not envisage servo brakes, power steering, automatic transmissions, push-button window lifts and trafficators operated by moving a switch, so that signals could be given with the car's windows closed. Yet he was aware that modern improvements were taking the joy out of motoring and was prepared to forsake four cylinders for his ancient "onelunger" and travel more slowly and infinitely more crudely in the name of sport.

Present-day enthusiasts are a good deal more fortunate, because there are cars which are not only far more fun to drive than ordinary bread-and-dripping vehicles but which are also faster and a good deal safer, so that, by owning them, you enjoy the best of all possible automotive attainments.

With this in mind I had a short session with the Continental Correspondent and we came to the conclusion that the only cars worth driving, cars which respond to skilful handling, which can even be dangerous in the possession of incompetents, but which offer the heights of performance, safety and controllability to those who understand what they are doing, are very few in number. In fact, our choice was: Abarth G.T., A.C. Cobra, Alfa Romeo Giulietta Zagato, Aston Martin G.T., Daimler SP250, Ferrari 250 G.T.O., Jaguar E-type, Lancia Flaminia Zagato, Lotus Elan, Maserati G.T., Mercedes-Benz 300SL and 2-litre Porsche Carrera.

Not everyone can aspire to own, or get the best from, such cars; MOTOR SPORT'S staff cars include Porsche (two), Saab, Austin-Healey Sprite, Lotus and Mini Minor, which is a long way below the ideal but not, I think, entirely discreditable.

New Sports Cars

It could be argued that "motoring" implies an open car, because, after all, a closed car with the heater on is as closely akin to remaining at home in a centrally-heated study or lounge as makes no matter, except that it is safer in the car, the bulk of human disasters, they tell us, happening indoors. So I was glad to see a number of promising new sports cars making their debut at Earls Court—the M.G.-B with its 1.8-litre engine and unitary construction the Triumph Spitfire with its smart Italian-styled body and all-round-independent suspension, and the Lotus Elan with Ford twin-cam engine, disc brakes on all four wheels, all-round-independent suspension, a backbone chassis endowed with significant race-bred features, and retractable headlamps. This Lotus was announced amid all the glamour of the Ford showrooms in Regent Street, W.1, and is surely the fastest car ever to have been seen in these plush surroundings? In America, too, they are turning to exciting sports cars. The Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray has been given independent rear suspension and with a 5.3-litre V8 engine developing 360 b.h.p. at 6,000 r.p.m. on the astonishingly high compression-ratio of 11¼ to 1 (reminder that the U.S.A. is a land of plenty, with very good petrol), an axle ratio of 3.7 to 1, a close-ratio gearbox with manual shift from a stubby remote floor gear-lever, and a wheelbase of 8 ft. 2 in., is definitely a sports car.

Then there is the Studebaker Avanti with supercharged 4.2-litre V8 engine giving some 275 b.h.p. and Dunlop-Bendix disc front brakes which is, in Raymond Loewy-styled coupe form, more of a G.T. car, but there is no mistaking the sports-car demeanour of Carroll Shelby's A.C. Cobra with its 260 b.h.p. 4.2-litre Ford V8 engine, 3.54-to-1 axle-ratio, and independent springing and Girling disc brakes front and back. Providing the chassis mods. prevent it from handling, in Shelby's own picturesque phrase, "like a blivot", this will be one of the best of machines in which to overcome the blight that the aforesaid Mr. Alfred Hunter forecast in 1905. There are, too, the exhaust turbo-supercharged alloy-V8 Oldsmobile Jetfire and the air-cooled, rear-engined exhaust-turbo-blown Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder, also available in G.T. form. To indicate that these American cars really go, here are some figures:

(I admit very willingly to borrowing this data from that excellent American monthly Road & Track, the fortunes of which have changed since the days, just after the war, when its Editor-publisher John Bond was obliged to pay contributors in sweat shirts because dollars were in short supply.)

In order to benefit from developments undertaken by the World's more progressive manufacturers, and to set an example to those customers who will otherwise be content to go along with cart-springs, rigid rear axles, drum brakes and liquid-cooled iron cylinder blocks until the dawn of another century, it is important that discerning motorists buy cars of the most advanced design available in the price-category they can afford.

Advanced Design

I am not saying dogmatically that independent rear suspension is essential; indeed, badly-designed i.r.s. can be infinitely inferior to a well-engineered rigid-axle assembly. But it at least behoves present-day designers, if they cannot achieve i.r.s. to Daimler Benz and Jaguar standards, either due to technical inability or on account of financial considerations, to use a lightweight axle correctly located by radius arms and anti-roll bars and sprung on coil-springs or torsion-bars instead of antiquated leaf-springs of the kind found on bath-chairs and donkey carts.

There are manufacturers who do this—Alfa Romeo, Peugeot, Volvo, Opel Kadet, etc., and while the ultimate must be either a front engine driving the front wheels, or a rear engine driving the rear ones (until the Ferguson convinces everyone that all four wheels should be driven, maybe with the power unit amidships), it does behove those who choose cars with propeller shafts to at least pick those that handle decently because they have a sensible springing medium and a back axle properly constrained from wagging the tail of the chassis.

Designers who work for mass-producers of motor vehicles may try to tell you that in their opinion, backed perhaps by the particular variety of Market Research to which they do lip-service, independent suspension is a lot of rot. Let us not forget, however, that we have been called a Nation of Shop-keepers; the real fact is that where bigger profits accrue from making old-fashioned cars it is convenient to pretend that new complications are unnecessary and unjustified. How any engineer worth his salary has the nerve to say i.r.s. is too expensive for family cars when even French peasants in their Citroen 2 c.v.s have the benefit not only of all-round-independent suspension but of inter-coupled springing into the bargain, I just do not understand. . . .

Do not fall into the trap that such things as air-cooling, i.r.s., torsion-bar suspension and so on are "unconventional" and therefore to be regarded with suspicion and reserve. With 5,000,000 Volkswagens roaming the Globe, supported by vast outputs of "unconventional" cars from the Renault and Fiat factories, it is the Dagenham Fords and the larger B.M.C. models, the Rootes Group products and the Luton Vauxhalls whose specifications must, reluctantly, be regarded both as old-fashoned and, in this day and age, as "unconventional".

With the demand for VWs as unsatiable as ever, with Renault offering an 80-m.p.h. 5-bearing under-1-litre car with disc brakes back and front, Fiat making a 1½ litre saloon which, performance wise, puts many sports cars behind it, Opel restyling the Kadet with high-camshaft valve gear, torque-tube transmission and two-leaf rear springs, with the advent of the brilliant Taunus 12M in Cologne and with that modern cyclecar, the belt-drive D.A.F. from Holland, cocking-a-snoot at fully automatic transmission for small-engined cars with its foolproof two-pedal control of the simplest kind, I can only say "Thank St. Christopher" for Alec Issigonis, Alex Moulton, and to the British Motor Corporation for giving them carte blanche to design really revolutionary small cars for Britain to make and sell round the World.

Rivals in a Common Market

It is no concern of a motor journal whether the Government in power is Communist, Conservative, Labour or Liberal, or whether or not Britain goes into the Common Market. Yet, with discussion at white heat as to whether or not Protestant Britain should join with predominantly Roman Catholic Europe, is it not ironical that from Europe comes the technically-outstanding new Ford Taunus 12M and from England the dreary, old-fashioned Ford Consul Cortina with its uninspired specification?

I see that my old friend Laurence Pomeroy, usually a valuable and vociferous spokesman for B.M.C., has done his best to justify the Ford Cortina in an erudite and clever article he wrote for The Motor. I note, too, that many motoring papers, inspired perhaps by a generous allocation of colour advertising (Which you won't find in MOTOR SPORT !), have published carefully worded test-reports on this latest offering from Dagenham.

Yet I cannot see how this Ford can for one moment compete with the front-drive, transverse-engine, disc-braked Morris 1100 which, with the M.G. 1100, has the most advanced suspension system of any small car in the World. Ford have reverted to drum brakes and a normal-angle back window for the Cortina. It has a rigid back axle sprung on, and located by, donkey-cart springs, although it is amusing to find that, the chill wind of non-metallic axle-less suspensions having blown around the Dagenham drawing-office, Ford admits to having taken steps to reduce friction between the spring leaves and to find out the best place at which to anchor their rigid axle to these springs. In this, I would think that they have gone only half as far as Opel has in the new Kadet. When I drove an early Cortina and noted its plain interior, watched rain penetrating its quarter-lights, and felt it roll and hop on corners, I thought it would get by only at a competitively low selling price. In fact, in 2-door de luxe form the Cortina is a mere £5 8s. 9d. less expensive than the equivalent Morris 1100, yet the Morris is the most revolutionary small car it is possible to buy*. The performance figures of these two cars can be compared, as follows :

On this basis it is easy to see which is the better car, and in less tangible qualities of handling and control the B.M.C. product is obviously immeasurably superior.

So I cannot see how anyone in his or her right mind is going to purchase an American-sponsored Cortina when for less than £6 more they can " float-on-fluid," brake on discs and enjoy other unique advantages of the economical British-built Morris or M.G. 1100. As to whether the dreary Cortina will be outsold by the brilliant Taunus 12M is another matter. The latter, with its 60° vee-four power unit driving the front wheels, the engine's inherent primary out-of-balance forces courageously countered by means of a crankshaft-driven balance-shaft, its ingenious sealed split-circuit silent heater, and the use of a transverse front leaf-spring and rear springs to suspend a lightweight dead axle-beam, which, if they give a ride anything like that of a similar arrangement on the front-drive flat-four Lancia Flavia„ are eminently satisfactory, is a car all discerning car-buyers would prefer. Alas, car-buyers are not always in right mind by technical standards, so I shall expect Consuls, Cortina and Classic, to go on selling in large numbers, as Consuls always have, to working class motorists ("following in the excellent tradition of the model-T," pace Mr. Pomeroy). But, if Cortina outsells 12M, this must not be misconstrued as a design triumph for the outdated model; it will merely mean that Ford's U.K. plant is better geared for mass-production and mass sales than its Cologne factory, which in 1960 produced 188,000 private cars compared to an output of 381,000 Fords in the U.K. Although the 12M gives away 15 c.c. to the Cortina that it has much the same performance and is more economical is seen by the following figures:

Whatever happens, the small-car battle in Europe in the next decade is going to be a bitter one, with the issue very much between front-wheel-drive (B.M.C., Auto Union, Citroen, D.K.W., Ford, Lancia, Panhard and Saab) and rear-engine location (B.M.W., Chevrolet, Fiat, N.S.U., Porsche, Simca and Volkswagen), with Renault enjoying the best of both these worlds. Volkswagen, Renault and Fiat have been rear-engine advocates for many years, Simca has recently followed suit, but Rootes have left the introduction, some people say, of their rear-engined small car too late; which is, perhaps, poetic justice, remembering that engineers from Humber Ltd., sent to report on the VW just after the war, pronounced it a worthless vehicle incapable of satisfactory development, thereby losing Britain her chance of acquiring Volkswagenwerk as war reparations!

B.M.C. has convinced some 400,000 people in the past three years of the superior handling properties bestowed by front-wheel-drive, and few people who have to negotiate wet fields, muddy car parks and icy gradients will argue against having the weight of the power unit and transmission over the driving wheels, whether the designer has left it "conventionally" in front or whether he sits you with your back to the engine. Certainly no one who is sane can argue that automobile design is stagnating. At Earls Court there was ample variety in almost every department of engine and chassis, whereas of the cars introduced forty years ago, for 1923, 4-cylinder engines were found in 74½% of them, 65½% had side valves, 95¾% were water cooled, 52½% had 4-speed gearboxes but synchromesh and automation were virtually unknown, novel transmissions being confined to a mere 2%, 79% had 4-elliptic front springs, and only 2% of the 1923 cars had anything other than leaf rear springs. Spiral-bevel final drive ruled supreme in 75% of the back axles. The only component where variety was rampant, in comparison with the cars of 1963, was the wheel - 34% of manufacturers preferred steel spoke wheels, 27% fitted discs, 25% the elegant, classic but horrid-to-clean wire wheel, while 14% still thought wood the best material. Not only has automobile engineering progressed, but today there is wider variety of design.

Meeting Competition

Variety of design is excellent, because it stimulates competition and brings individuality to bear on car purchase. But if Britain is to succeed in competition with Europe it is essential not only that she produces cars of advanced technical thinking but that these products are well made, call for a minimum of maintenance, and are sold and serviced with enthusiasm. Once upon a time quality cars like the 3-litre Bentley came with a 5-year guarantee. General Motors of America have just announced a warranty extending over two years or 24,000 miles, whichever shall first occur, with no labour charges for replacing defective parts. To the current trend towards fewer greasing points and simplified servicing British Companies should add more generous guarantees. Two of the biggest dangers we face in this country are lack of incentive for executives and technicians to give of their best, and frequent strikes on the part of the workers. Before the First World War factory executives were worth anything from £8,000 to £15,000 a year by today's values after paying their income tax and Laurence Pomeroy's father, when Chief Engineer to Vauxhall Motors, was accustomed to taking home at the age of 30 a net income of £120 a week in terms of 1962 pounds. This incentive to work well and hard has diminished seriously under the depressing onslaught of our savage system of taxation, where money earned is immediately practically halved, whereas that gained from gambling on horses, dogs, or the football pools, on stock exchange gambles or in the Government's own Premium Bonds lottery, goes tax-free. Those wage-earners who adopt motoring as their hobby pay again, in purchase tax, licence fees, compulsory insurance and fuel tax, motor taxation alone topping £650,000,000 a year. Why, they even make B.M.C. put something distasteful in the suspension fluid of the Morris 1100, in case someone drains the system (thereby ruining his car) and then drinks perhaps 3½ pints of duty-free alcohol. . .! It is pay, pay, pay the tax offices all the time and unless the existing Government faces up to the fact that motorists have votes, removes Marples, and reduces taxation generally, it is debatable whether it will survive another Election. It is a sober fact that one employed person in eleven is working in the Road Transport Industry. They should remember that since 1910 motor taxation has provided £4,500-million in excess of total road expenditure. .

The World of Today

Indeed, this old World is a depressing place. The food we eat is, I hear, being poisoned by chemicals sprayed on the crops and over the soil, and if this makes us ill and we consult a doctor he is likely to prescribe some wonderful new drug that will make us a damn sight worse. While astronauts heroically circle the Globe the earthly traveller inevitably finds himself bogged down in a traffic jam and if eventually the open road is attained, there is a 40-m.p.h. or 50-m.p.h. speed-limit and every likelihood. of being fined up to £50 for going too fast, going too slowly, not stopping, stopping in the wrong place or wearing the wrong spectacles, etc., etc. Or you may lose your licence altogether because thrice in three years you have been caught, perhaps by radar, exceeding by a couple of miles-per-hour the city speed limit on wide deserted roads. You could, of course, sell the car and go by train. but the odds are that in England they won't be running. There is one consolation about this, because the only time we are Marples' Golden Boys is when there is a 'bus or rail stoppage. . .

The most apt comment on the state of motoring in this country comes from a letter written by a lady, who is a non-motorist, to the East Anglian Times. The spirit in England today, this correspondent observes, is to "coddle the deliberately wicked, crack down on the mistaken, and crack twice as hard if he happens to be in a car." What an attitude to one of the most-heavily taxed sections of this tight-packed community!

Insurance tycoons whose motoring is probably confined to the back-seat of a chauffeur-driven Princess continue to regard sports cars as highly unsafe, whereas we all know that they are more stable, better braked and quicker out of trouble than even the better family cars. Rural England is being stealthily ruined by money-loving speculative builders, major holders of shares in cement and concrete, and those who worship in the Light of Neon. Bulldozers noisily obliterate anything green.... Our children are being shown the lamentable example that if you want to get more pay for less work the way to go about it is not to work at all. . .

The lust of grab-all pervades the land. Dr. Beeching takes home £460 a week in an unproductive job; if you manage to save anything from your salary the bankers insult you with a pitiful rate of interest, which is promptly taxed. Invest in property and you will be heavily rated (with an extra dollop for each garage) and robbed under Schedule A. And it doesn't stop at taxation. I confess to being depressed at finding that in the last two years I have paid my Accountant ten times as much as I have ever spent on a personal motor car. . . . If I ever retire I rather think I shall turn my back on England. . . .  The World has, indeed, deteriorated from metal and nuts-and-bolts to an age of plastics and adhesives. Over all hangs the horror of nuclear destruction; the scientists' cruellest gift to mankind. . .

Motoring for Sport

The best antidote to this chronic state of affairs is still the motor car and once again I make this annual appeal to enthusiasts to invest in worthwhile cars of advanced design, leaving the retrograde and unprogressive makes and models to auntie and uncle. Otherwise, in this Shopkeeping Nation run by Shop Stewards, all cars sooner or later will become so mediocre that "driving and sitting in the tonneau will be much the same thing."

In this spirit, let me wish you good Motoring in 1963; I must see my Managing Director about a Ferrari. You know what he will say? So do I. — W. B.

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THE MAGIC OF A NAME

The BBC banned the song In My Merry Oldsmobile because of their rule against advertising branded goods. The same day they had a TV show called "Sykes and a Rolls" . . .

LES GIRLS

It is said that women have a vital influence on car sales, which is presumably why so many of them figure in advertisements for cars and subsidiary products. Believe it or not, we counted no less than 68 girls in advertisements in a certain weekly motoring journal, not including one whose sex we could not be sure about. The Elva Couriers we saw recently were draped in young women in shorts or bikinis and we notice with relief that Smiths are continuing their "Worth Looking At" series, now of longstanding.  If the girl went with the car we should have ordered an M.G.-B long ago!