Showtime Soliloquy

The picture at the top of this page shows pre-war German Grand Prix Mercedes-Benz cars being driven along the Charlottenburgh Strasse, with the Brandenburger Gate in the background, for the opening of a Berlin Motor Show. This was Hitler’s way of emphasising to the German Nation that their racing cars ruled supreme.

Since motor racing began, the important Grand Prix contests had been dominated by the French and Italians, until Germany built cars for political propaganda; incidentally giving the World some of the most exciting racing ever seen, and thereby thrashed the opposition so thoroughly that she dominated the scene. After she had lost a war won largely because of the superiority of the Rolls-Royce Merlin aero-engine, which was in effect racebred (giving rise to the couplet “If the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, the Battle of 13ritain was decided above Calshot Water”), Italy and then Germany again dominated the Grand Prix scene. Not until Tony Vandervell took things seriously and brought in his all-conquering green Vanwalls did Britain get a grip on winning G.P. races.

Today, and for some years, we have beaten the rest of the World at this form of mechanical activity, in spite of Ferrari, and come Honda. So it is supremely fitting that this year’s Lord Mayor’s Show, which you can watch in the City of London on November 14th, should take as one of its main themes motor-racing and record-breaking. Famous fast cars out of the past will go by on floats but modern Grand Prix cars will be let loose in the hands of their customary drivers through the streets (or at all events along one bit of one street) in London-town. Thus, after all these years, the Lord Mayor has done what Hitler caused to be done in Berlin and the year 1964 will see due recognition given to British racing cars, supreme “wearers of the green,” which at one time failed to receive recognition at the S.M.M.T. Motor Show at Earls Court.

To the Lord Mayor grateful thanks for showing proper appreciation of the prestige British racing cars and drivers have earned for this country, and I hope our successful rally Fords and Mini Coopers will be allowed to run as well. And, before leaving this heartening subject, I think credit should be given to John Eason Gibson of the B.R.D.C. who, if the grapevine is correct, was the enthusiastic instigator of this quite splendid idea.

So, with happenings as diverse as this motor-racing Lord Mayor’s Show, the London Motor Exhibition and the Veteran Car Run to Brighton, another year rolls to a close. A quite remarkable year, during which not only did the bulk of the money stolen in the Great Train Robbery remain unrecovered, but, one of its ring-leaders having been apprehended and put in prison, he had only to sit patiently in his cell until his buddies had time to nip over the wall, unlock some doors and lead him to freedom.

Indeed, his fate has been comparatively less severe than that of many would-be-lawful car drivers who have fallen foul of the Law and come under the vicious disqualification clauses of Marplism. Writing this on the day of the General Election, I hope sincerely that whichever Party is elected to power by the evening, its Minister of Transport will take a more lenient look at motoring than has been the case to date. It is high time that the image of the motor-car as a status symbol of the irresponsible rich be obliterated and politicians and magistrates made to realise that in an age of general prosperity the private car has become a universal transport and pleasure possession and that two-car families are becoming common-place. The heavy fines and periods of disqualification now all too frequently meted out for minor technical or traffic offences, often on the evidence of biased and unknowledgeable non-drivers, has antagonised the Public against the Police. This is the greatest misfortune, because most of our British bobbies are still wonderful, and I must place on record the fact that in the only serious motoring accident I have been involved in, in a Morgan Plus Four on black ice, and when the Morris 1100 my eldest daughter was driving was savaged by “ton-up” motorcyclists, the Constables who dealt with these cases could not have been more thoughtful, courteous and fair. The black feelings which motorists now have for anyone in a Police uniform stem from the attitude of those in authority in the Force and those who sit in Court judging motoring cases. It is they who are doing serious harm to a fine Force and the sooner they are prepared to blame inadequate roads, accident black-spots and the growing traffic congestion for the mounting motoring offences and put away their dubious radar traps on empty stretches of safe straight roads (traps which the new Earl Howe has repeatedly condemned as inaccurate and which the more honest Police Chiefs view with suspicion), the happier will be the lot of those drivers, be they lorry driver, taxi driver, family motorist or sports-car user, who do their level best to keep out of trouble and leave accidents to others. If motorists are easier to apprehend than criminals, it must be remembered that whereas the latter are given a number after they have been arrested, every motorist carries permanent identification numbers!

So, then, another year is coming to a close, a year of harmless Beatles and less harmless near-pornography published by once reputable publishing houses, a year of fine new Motorways like M6 and traffic stagnation on most other roads, a year in which those ugly tools of modern civilisation, the cement-mixer and bull-dozer, have encroached a bit further on the countryside, a time of increasing uniformity and the American way of life, in which Presidents are still assassinated and people still starve, for all the superiority man claims over the animal kingdom. The latest manifestation of Americanism is drag-racing, about which the Continental Correspondent has a great deal to tell you in this issue, which is not to imply that it takes place on the Continent. On the question of American encroachment, apart from the Chrysler link-up with Rootes five so-called British cars now have power units from the other side of the Atlantic.

It has been a year in which high-performance is still the aim of most car design-teams, so that Vauxhall and Jaguar have increased the size of their engines and the emphasis, in an era when 3.8-litres of Jaguar are challenged by a litre-or-so of Mini Cooper, is on increased power. Small cars have become really small, only Reliant reviving the idea of a utility vehicle with a small engine hut a big body; I have long maintained that 60 m.p.h./60 m.p.g. should be the target of small-car designers, and I challenge the makers of the new Rebel to prove to me that they have accomplished this elusive ideal. If they have, over day-in-day-out motoring, praise be theirs…!

It is a year in which the shadow American finance cast ages ago over Dagenham and Luton has drifted towards Coventry and in which some very invidious propaganda by an Insurance Group against sports-car drivers, in the form of an advertisement reproduced on page 947, has shocked many of our readers. Insurance, of course, long ago ceased to be a gentlemanly pursuit, a sporting gamble between the Company and the Policy-Holder. It has become Big Business and, like Banking, has forfeited much of its former dignity. The aim now is to make the biggest possible profit for the minimum acceptable risk—my car policy excludes any claim ” directly or indirectly caused by or contributed to by or arising from ionising radiations or contamination by radioactivity from any irradiated nuclear fuel or any nuclear waste from the combustion of nuclear fuel.” There’s nothing like looking ahead, in your own interests!

Last year, on the eve of the London Motor Show, drove a Chrysler gas-turbine car. This year it was the turn of the Wankel rotary-engined N.S.U. Spider. Both are convincingly smooth and foolproof but I do not think you will be able to buy either off the stand at Earls Court. Indeed, crankshafts and pistons seem likely to withstand the challenge of rotary and turbine engines as effectively as poppet valves have in the past weathered the onslaught of sleeve and rotary valves. Last year the Rover 2000 was generally regarded as the Car-of-the-Show. This year it is the turn of the AD057 Austin 5800. I hope to be able to give my own impressions of this controversial car elsewhere in this issue. Meanwhile, looking at the performance figures currently available, it appears to out-accelerate the smaller-capacity Ford Corsair (but is left well behind by the Ford Cortina GT) at the expense of greater petrol thirst. B.M.C. have refrained from making it a high-performance version of the Morris 1100, perhaps because, with the Mini-Cooper S, they have covered this market pretty effectively, and the slogan “The 1.8-litre with the accommodation of a 3-litre, performance of a 2-litre and fuel consumption of a 1½-litre” seems appropriate, until you remember that a 1½-litre Ford Cortina GT will outperform it and is far more economical. But the excellence of the Moulton suspension is not to be denied, while compaction of the mechanical components still has some merit, for instance if your garage is small, your town congested, or you are mean over air and shipping freight charges. The stiff Structure of the ADO17 has introduced a weight penalty and a heavier engine appears to have necessitated unduly low-geared steering, so that Mr. Average Motorist, let loose in the new car by a contemporary, was lukewarm in its praise. And it was rather daunting to find Issigonis himself saying he is disappointed in the ADO17, in an interview in the same contemporary. Even the nine handsome pictures of him, published with the article, did not quite compensate for the shock…

Elsewhere I read that the ADO17 design emphasises that, I quote, “it is hard today to justify the introduction of a new model with a front engine and rear drive, especially if a rigid rear axle is retained.” This appears in an official B.M.C. publication, so presumably the 4-litre Vanden Plas Princess R is regarded as a compromise. Yet this Rolls-Royce-powered car was proclaimed as a great new model, with just as big a flourish of trumpets, only a few weeks before the ADO17 was announced. Mark you, the installation of the Best Engine in the World in a car selling for under £2,,000 is a notable achievement, although it is interesting to remember that these Best Engines are also found in things like excavators, railcars, cranes and suchlike, as well as in some of the finest aircraft and hovercraft in the World…

All in all, I think 1965 will continue to witness keen competition between the unconventional designs of anti-American Alec Issigonis and the conservative cars from American-owned Ford of Dagenham. If you have not driven the former you do not know what decent road-holding and comfort applied to family saloons is, while the latter contrive to offer some of the most reliable land transport available, backed by GT acceleration and notable improvements to ride and air-conditioning in the latest versions. My ideal would be a car embodying the best of both these makes, and I should be interested to know if this can be found in any car selling at £1,738, the combined price of the two I have been driving with considerable satisfaction for the past twelve months?

At Earls Court every attempt was made to influence you in your choice of a new car and salesmen, publicity writers and journalists will now exert every effort to continue to put over the merits of the 1965 models, with British products protected by Import Duty from the dastardly foreigners. Yet, when all is said and done, I am not sure that it isn’t the women who influence sales of the World’s automobiles, by just looking at the style and colour of the body and trying the comfort of the seats in the showroom of the local agent. Woman’s influence on the motor car reaches back for before the time when Wolseley fitted a stumpy umbrella in their saloons with the feminine buyer in mind. Today, as a very eminent Chief Engineer has reminded me, it extends to such significant engineering problems as ensuring that the glovelocker lid opens in a manner which will not endanger long, pointed finger-nails. . . .

What with the insurance war against sports cars, the precarious position of the small firms, and the voice of the motoring wife or girl friend, we should give thanks to St. Christopher that there are still sports and GT cars on the market for discerning enthusiasts, who buy cars for the manner in which they go, handle and stop, and not because the two-tone finish matches the curtains or the best hand-hag fits so nicely in the door pocket.

Whichever type you drive, may motoring continue to be your all-absorbing passion and may you miss the radar beams in 1965. And may motoring sport continue to flourish, all the way from veterans of a few wheezing horse-power to jet-propelled monsters intended to out-Bluebird Bluebird. Or, to be topical, out-Breedlove Breedlove !—W. B.