B.M.C.’s Offering for Learners and Novices
ENTHUSIASTS may tend to sneer at automatic transmission and to me it represents a retrograde step towards motoring simplification that is a sop to women drivers and does not necessarily mean increased safety, inasmuch as anything exceedingly easy to do is all too often done casually.
Yet we should not sneer at this exceptionally clever technical innovation—racing drivers of the calibre of Stirling Moss, the late Mike Hawthorn and Anita Taylor have advocated two-pedal driving and Chaparral transmission of this kind has triumphed in racing.
Most certainly I advocate two-pedal control for learner-drivers in their initial stages of tuition. Recently I had definite proof that a 17-year-old girl became accustomed to driving in traffic far quicker when at the wheel of an Automatic Austin Mini than when having to think about gear-changing and clutch engagement as well as steering, braking and signalling. This is, I suppose, pretty obvious. But it makes the B.M.C. Mini even more universal and an ideal beginners’ car, for a novice likes not only simple controls but compact size.
In spite of a power increase to overcome the loss occasioned by the clever Automotive Products-built transmission to watchmaker’s standards, we still got 35 premium m.p.g. in spite of lots of L-plate motoring, The gearbox functions splendidly and the beauty of the thing is that when the learner has finished the experienced driver can have fun, because the little central quadrant-type gear gate enables instant selection of, and holds, any of the four forward speeds, there being no need to leave it in “D” for full automation. Its plated gate reminds one of this by reflection in the windscreen. . . . Used thus there is quite useful pick-up, and even in “D” the accelerator kick-down can be used to forestall too-frequent up-and down automatic gear-changes that otherwise occur on slight hills.
It was great fun to be in a Mini again, which feels from the driving seat so pleasantly spacious, has so much stowage room, and rides in luxury on its Hydrolastic suspension, while continuing to hold the road in inimitable Mini fashion round corners.
There is talk of having two types of driving licence, one for those who take the test on manual-gearchange cars, another for those who do so aided by automatic transmission. As things are going I think a considerable percentage of new drivers would then opt for always using automatic cars. I definitely believe that learners will become proficient more quickly if initial training is undertaken in two-pedal cars. So the Automatic Mini is just the job for ambitious driving schools and the best possible present for a person in the provisional-licence stage. It is well worth the extra £92 3s. 9d. it costs, which embraces engine modifications including a cr. increase from 8.3 to 9.0 to 1 and an MS4 S.U. carburetter to give more power fordriving the wonderfully compact 4-speed epicyclic gearbox and hydrokinetic converter coupling. The changes of ratio go through very smoothly considering the engine capacity is only 848 c.c., the box uses engine oil just as on other Minis (not a drop was consumed in 750 miles) and there is just enough creep and a truly effective hill-hold to give the novice complete confidence. The wipers are not self-cancelling, the bonnet still has to be propped open, and the petrol filler-cap is unsecured. The brakes made a rubbing noise. As production gets into its stride I predict a great sales success for this timely new Mini development. Its reliability was surely proved when Joe Lowrey got one through the last Monte Carlo Rally, in spite of having to accept a prototype from which the inevitable teething troubles had not been by any means eradicated. Incidentally, Lord Montagu, who uses a Citroen Safari for his long-distance motoring, told me recently that he finds an Automatic Mini just the job commuting in London from his West End flat.