This year’s Motor Show has been one of the best ever as far as new models are concerned and the record crowds pouring into Earls Court has been an obvious reflection of the great activity in the Motor Industry. The popular newspapers talk about the “Star of the Show,” and this year it must be the Rover 2000, which is a complete breakaway from previous Rover practice. As we found in our road-test (see page 918), the rather complicated suspension layout was more than justified when we tried it on the road. It was also one of the few cars which could drag the Assistant Editor from his fireside on a wet winter evening to do some extra-curricula road-testing, although it was spoilt somewhat by the fact that the four headlamps are not as powerful as some two-lamp systems.
It is pretty obvious that the Rover engineers had a DS Citroën standing beside their drawing boards when they were dreaming up many of the features of the 2000, for it resembles that car in so many ways and, we are happy to say, is superior to it in many respects. The Rover comes into a competitive class and it will obviously hit at such cars as the Humber Hawk, Austin A110, Jaguar 2.4, Wolseley 6/110 and such foreign cars as the Volvo 122S, Peugeot 404, Alfa Romeo Giulia TI and Citroën ID19, which are intended for a cheaper class but overloaded with purchase tax and import duty. The new Triumph 2000 comes into this class at £1,094 but its less luxurious interior should encourage a lot of people to spend the extra £171 on the Rover.
A popular question to ask at Show time is about the trend of car design. With Britain’s varied products it is difficult to pinpoint any one trend as many manufacturers are going off at different tangents. One significant trend is towards increased engine capacity; the 850s are going up to 1,000 c.c., the 1,000s are going up to 1,200, the 1,500s are going up to 1,80O, the 2,000s to 2,200, the 2,500s to 2,800 c.c., and so on. This is difficult to understand for European car production and design is geared almost entirely to the price of petrol. If the price of petrol was lowered to 2s. a gallon we would be faced with an interesting horsepower race such as the Americans faced and enjoyed in the late ‘fifties.
With petrol still being exorbitantly priced it is difficult to see how manufacturers can justify increased engine sizes when existing designs are not economical enough. It is interesting to note that an E-type Jaguar capable of 150 m.p.h. will do 20 m.p.g. when driven quite hard, yet a 1,000-c.c. saloon is hard put to it to double this figure with its top speed of only 75 m.p.h., and many cars in the 1 to 1 1/2-litre category are lucky to approach 25 m.p.g. In this connection we see that a weekly contemporary gives as one of the major reasons for keeping down the overall length of the Triumph 2000 that the cross-Channel ferry charges rise sharply over the 14 ft. 6 in. mark. This seems a fatuous excuse for reducing luggage space and in any case how many people will want to motor in France for any length of time now that tourists’ petrol coupons are no longer obtainable and fuel costs upwards of 6s. 6d. a gallon. With this sort of millstone round our necks the European Motor Industry is hardly likely to worry the American market significantly.
All the cars at Earls Court had independent front suspension but there is still no large-scale movement towards independent rear suspension, and although there are over 80 different cars on sale with independent rear suspension these represent a relatively small section of the British industry as the really large-scale manufacturers are still slow in going over to i.r.s. Ford and Vauxhall (both American) have no models with i.r.s. B.M.C. have only the Mini and Morris 1100 models, and Rootes have only recently been converted to i.r.s. for the Imp. Triumph have i.r.s. on all their models except the TR4 but they are relatively low-volume manufacturers compared with the Big Four. Incidentally, the name of Standard will no longer be seen on new cars, which is rather amusing as it was the Standard Company which took over Triumph just after the War. Apparently the name Standard does not fit in with present-day high-pressure salesmanship and in America the Standard Eight and Ten models were called Triumph sedans for many years.
There is little uniformity on the type of i.r.s. being used at present although the swing axle system seems to be numerically the largest. However, more sophisticated layouts are coming into being and should grow in popularity, for the swing axle is inherently unsafe. The de Dion system seems to be winning back some ground and at Earls Court four different cars were shown with de Dion axles, these being the Iso Rivolta, the Lagonda Rapide, the Lancia Flaminia and the Rover 2000. But the only one of these that will sell in any quantity is the Rover and it seems unlikely that it could be made cheaply enough for mass production. It is interesting to note that the smaller and cheaper a car is the more likely it is to have i.r.s. Of 11 cars costing under £550 eight have i.r.s., but of 20 cars costing between £750 and £1,000 only two have i.r.s., so that it appears that the more money you spend the less refinement you obtain.
What of other technical advances? Engines are not changing much at present although the overhead camshaft is regaining ground rapidly and the side-valve is almost but not quite dead. The only gas turbine at Earls Court was in the Rover-B.R.M. Le Mans car but the Rover 2000 was designed for a turbine engine, and Chrysler are letting journalists drive their turbine car. The Wankel engine is making a shaky start in the back of a convertible Sport Prinz which will be expensive enough at £1,189 to discourage all but the trail-blazers or the merely curious. However, Mercedes-Benz are said to be well advanced with a car having two Wankel engines in the boot. Renault have a rotary engine under development but in order not to infringe N.S.U. patents they have had to resort to the use of poppet valves and all the drawings and data sent to us so far carefully avoid mention of how the valves are operated. Still, the possibility that we all may be driving turbine, or rotary-engined cars within ten years is not beyond the bounds of credibility for these things sometimes have a habit of snowballing.
For confirmation, look at the disc brake situation. Not long ago the brake manufacturers were saying that the disc brake was too expensive to produce for cheaper cars but soon they will be saying to backward manufacturers that it is no longer economic to produce drum brakes. Renault lead the way in this respect with big 10-in, discs on all wheels of the R8, and many other cars have discs on the front wheels if not on all four. The disc is not the automatic cure-all for braking troubles, as B.M.C. found with the Mini-Cooper, while the problem of fitting an efficient handbrake on rear discs is only just being solved now.
Few British manufacturers have excelled in gearbox design and manufacture but several good designs like those on the Ford Anglia/Cortina/Corsair, Vauxhall Viva and Hillman Imp are showing how it should be done and it cannot be long before the great British Motor Corporation designs new gearboxes to replace the poor examples used on their present small cars. No doubt this will come when the venerable “A” series engine is pensioned off, for it is now very near its limit.
Another trend in the last year or so is towards what the Americans call “customising,” which consists of carrying out modifications to normal production cars mainly in improvements to coachwork and interior trim rather than performance. Coachbuilders like Hooper, Radford and Abbott now titivate such cars as the Ford Cortina, Capri and Zodiac, Mini-Cooper, Austin 1100 and Vauxhall Cresta. This work mainly consists of making a normal car more luxurious, quieter, more comfortable and slower than standard, for a good deal more money. Even Ogle seem to have given up building the SX 1100 model in order to build a special Cortina to Stirling Moss’ design which costs about £1,400. It seems doubtful if anyone will spend Jaguar money for a Cortina with a tape recorder.—M.L.T.
Some random comments on new cars at the show
Abarth.—Abarth still manage to cram an awful amount of performance into a tiny package and on Anthony Crook’s stand there were examples of the 1000, the Simca-Abarth 1300 and the Abarth 2000. With 180 b.h.p. at 7,300 r.p.m. all behind the axle line this must be a fearsome device to drive round corners, but it’s straight-line performance should be terrific. Abarth claim a top speed of 150 m.p.h. Also shown was the modified Fiat 600 with 1,000-c.c. engine.
A.C.—The A.C. factory at Thames Ditton has suspended production of all other models to concentrate on the Cobra, which is in great demand in the United States. The big V8 sitting in the show chassis on the A.C. stand looks a bit too much for the frail-looking twin-tube chassis. The car is now fitted with a 4.7-litre engine giving 300 b.h.p. at 5,850 r.p.m. on an 11:1 compression ratio and a single Holley carburetter. The name Ford Cobra is cast into the valve covers and one gets the impression that A.C. are now in the position of a Ford subsidiary.
Alfa Romeo.—Alfa showed the new Giulia Sprint GT on their stand, supported by the usual range of Alfa Romeo models. It is surprising that for a firm which is Government controlled and run by a committee of Civil Servants they manage to turn out such consistently fine cars.
Alvis.—Alvis still sell a few of the 3-litre model which was introduced in Series III form at the Show. Minor coachwork changes were made, mainly to incorporate twin headlamps in each wing. The power has also been raised from 115 b.h.p. at 4,000 r.p.m. to 130 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m., so that the car should be able to exceed 100 m.p.h. comfortably instead of with a struggle. It is one of the few cars to fit a 5-speed gearbox, this one being the German ZF unit.
Aston Martin.—The DB4 gave way to the DB5 before the Show but only detail changes have been made. The 4-litre engine gives 282 b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m., or 314 b.h.p. at 5,750 r.p.m. in G.T. form. As an alternative to the David Brown 4-speed gearbox one can order the ZF 5-speed unit. The DB5 is one of the first British cars to fit an alternator in place of the dynamo.
Auto Union/D.K.W.—Still advocates of the two-stroke engine, front-wheel-drive configuration, Auto Union have gone to a conventional body shape for the D.K.W. F102. An interesting detail feature on the Show car was the wind spoiler which pops up when the sun roof is slid back.
Bentley and Rolls-Royce still stick to their conventional chassis with such items as gearbox-driven brake servo invented by Renault. Some new body styles have been evolved.
B.M.W.—B.M.W. now have an excellent range of cars covering most classes from the 700 to the 3200 model. The 1500 is now available in England with right-hand drive, at £1,349, which should give many people a mental tug-of-war with the Rover 2000. The 1800 is also on the way.
B.M.C.—After announcing that there would be no changes to the B.M.C. range this year Austin changed their mind and introduced the Princess 1100. Based on the M.G. 1100 its luxury equipment should appeal to those who want more home comforts with their water suspension. Whether they can justify the expenditure of an extra £300 over the normal Morris 1100 is another matter.
Bond made their debut at Earls Court with the Equipe with glass-fibre body on the Triumph Herald chassis with Spitfire 63-b.h.p. engine. This is probably what the Americans call a “fastback” coupé, but the back is a little too fast for us.
Elva. Trojan Ltd. of Croydon now make the Courier but after a luke-warm reception by the Press last year have carried out considerable modifications. The Mk. III is now supplemented with the Mk. IV which has modified bodywork and double wishbone i.r.s. Available engines include the M.G.-B and the Ford Cortina GT 1500.
Facel.—This French company seems to have admitted defeat with its own twin o.h.c. 1.6-litre engine and have replaced it with the Volvo engine and gearbox in the Facel III. The attractive-looking Facel II continues with few changes and a placard on the stand announced that the Advertisers’ Weekly considered that “The Facel Vega is probably the second best car in the World.” They didn’t say which was first.
Fairthorpe.—Cheapness is the keyword at Fairthorpe and the finish of the cars on their stand reflected this. Still more variations on the basic theme are shown but it is really time that the body mould was destroyed.
Ferrari.—The 250LM is probably many people’s idea of the ideal G.T. car for it is literally a 250P, “just like the Le Mans winner,” with a roof on. Now all those people who said that the 250P couldn’t possibly be a prototype of a future G.T. car must cat their words. Whether it would be as happy dribbling down Park Lane as blasting down the Autostrada del Sole is another point.
Ford.—The Corsair is the latest addition to the Ford range but otherwise apart from detail modifications the vast selection of Ford models is unchanged. The facia layout of the Cortina is much improved.
Iso-Rivolta.—Appearing for the first time at Earls Court was the Iso-Rivolta, this being an Anglo/ltalian/American effort with Corvette engine, de Dion axle and a top speed of 150 m.p.h.
Jaguar.—The Jaguar range will be entirely converted to i.r.s. when the Mk. II model disappears, as surely it must. Next to go will be the 6-cylinder engine and 4-speed gearbox. Rumour has it that they will be replaced by twelve and five respectively. We can hardly wait but in the meantime Britain can be proud of Jaguar.
Lancia.—The Lancia range is so varied as to defy description, what with flat-fours, vee-fours, vee-sixes, front-wheel drive, de Dion axles and so on. More power is the keyword at Lancia this year.
Mercedes-Benz.—Vast crowds stood around, sat in, and stared at the 600 model, while the sporting enthusiasts drooled over the 230SL, which has received some modifications although it is only just going into production.
Morgan.—Our last, critical, road-test of the Morgan said that the car was outdated, but a number of letters, using such words as “last real sports car,” “tradition,” and so on, came from irate readers. We wonder what they think of the latest Morgan with plastic body looking like an out-of-shape XK150. Not surprisingly, Morgan didn’t send us details of the new car but we understand the chassis is the same!
N.S.U.—The Wankel rotary engine drew an admiring crowd at the Show but of more immediate interest was the o.h.c. 4-cylinder Prinz 1000 engine.
Panhard.—Perhaps the prettiest car at the Show was the new 24 model powered by the well-known flat-twin 848-c.c. engine giving 60 b.h.p. at 6,000 r.p.m.
Reliant.—A Reliant technical artist, G. E. Pepall, won an award in a coachwork design competition at the Show. Maybe he will be allowed to design a new body for the Sabre. The front suspension is now by wishbones. The title of the ugliest car at the Show must have gone to the Sabra Sussita which is built by Reliant for an Israeli firm.
Rover.—The 2000 made the other Rover models on the stand look very stodgy and one wonders how much longer the 95 and 110 can survive. The Rover-B.R.M. stood side by side with Jim Clark’s Lotus 25 on a special stand.
Rootes Group.—There are still not many Hillman Imps on the road but no doubt the bugs are being ironed out first. Most of the other Rootes models have been modified, the venerable Hillman Minx receiving yet another face-lift to bring it into line with modern Farina taste.
Trabant & Wartburg.—First-timers at Earls Court, these Fast German cars looked crude and outdated. Both are based on D.K.W. design with two-stroke engines and front-wheel drive.
Triumph.—Announced just before the Show, the Triumph 2000 is the star of the Triumph stand but its announcement heralds (sorry!) the finish of Standard cars.
Vauxhall are having a job to keep up with demand on the Viva, while more power and styling changes have been applied to the Victor and VX 4/90 models.
Vintage Postbag, January 1981
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