The Editor and the Continental Correspondent Tramp the Earls Court Aisles
W.B. and D.S.J. joined forces on Press Preview Day to discuss the exhibits, although the Editor regretted that to do this he had to forego the hospitality of Sir Donald Stokes and British Leyland at what was formerly the traditional B.M.C. pre-Show lunch. It is possible to walk into Earls Court without a pass on Press Day, which many who have no association with journalism gladly do; it seems droll that thereafter a charge is made, because every stand in the Show is engaged in selling something and whoever heard of being charged to go into a shop?
Anyway, off we went, propelled and steered by our feet—quite an unusual experience. As new British engines like the o.h.c. B.M.C. and Triumph and the Jaguar V8/V12 are for the future we went to look at foreign cars with new engines, like the Volvo Six with its slender valve cover and the B.M.W. Six. Whether these will be splendid cars or softened-up Swedish and German 3-litre Austins only test drives will reveal. Another new thing was the Otosan Anadol but W.B. said he thought it was a disinfectant or something, so we went on our way, reflecting that the Volvo 164 looks like an XJ6 or a Princess and that the B.M.W. 2500 looks quite undistinguished; but good cars are often the least impressive to look at. This applies to the brilliant Wankel-powered Ro80 but N.S.U. clearly had nothing to hide, for a fully-sectioned version was displayed on their stand.
On the Bristol stand we came upon the new AVON tyres but the 410s did not seem much changed. This drew our attention to the tyre-impartiality of Vauxhall, who showed cars shod with Michelin, Firestone and Goodyear and W.B. remembered that D.S.J. commented earlier this year on Goodyear’s driverless tractor which goes round and round a track to test tractor tyres and that Continental have gone one better, with a driverless Mercedes-Benz which laps their steeply-banked tyre-testing track.
Pausing at the Lancia stand, we both approved of the 1.3-litre Fulvia Rallye Coupé, which has very comfortable tight-fitting front seats and a back seat with a bar-type backrest; D.S.J. proclaimed this a two plus-two-halves-seater. The A.C. 428 Fastback puzzled us, because its Ford automatic gearbox is controlled not by a lever but by a wide hand-grip, to comply with U.S.A. safety regulations, yet beside it is a spikey hand brake. Then there is a big luggage boot, yet a beautifully upholstered and padded shelf is provided behind the front seats, presumably for luxury luggage—A.C. owners must go away for long periods! W.B. thought the girl in the leather bikini he noticed in the office on the stand might have something to do with this but just as he was looking at the little vent-windows immediately behind the A.C.’s doors and the improved ventilation generally, D.S.J. dragged him away, having lost interest in a £5,500 car in which you have to fumble about under the driver’s seat before you can alter the squab angle.
This took us to the small stand occupied by Porsche, where we were glad to see H. J. Aldington about again. Centre of attraction was a Dunlop-shod competition Porsche coupé in Targa Florio colours, carrying No. 224. A Porsche 912 in funeral black and dark-tinted glass contrasted with the bright tones of the other exhibits. We were told that the biggest demand is for Bahama Yellow, and W.B. thought perhaps this is because those who have missed getting patches in the Bahamas console themselves with a Bahama-hued Porsche in the suburban garage. A 911S with door pockets, small steering wheel and a wiper for the back Window which D.S.J. says he finds unnecessary on his E-type with its electrically-heated glass, was inspected and then D.S.J. noticed on the next stand a Porsche which had been shunted from the rear but it turned out to be a T.V.R. Vixen S2. There was an anti-smog pump on its Cortina GT engine and the chassis, looked like a Buckler five-bar gate in bathroom enamel, with horseshoe front wishbones. The body may well have been laid out by a doting mother, for the distance between driver’s and passenger’s seat is so great that any girl should be safe; the round object on the back shelf which we thought was a hat-box is the spare wheel. D.S.J. got in, then got out saying your feet went one way, your arms the opposite way, so we went on to the DB stand, where Aston Martin have got up to the DB6 and the name “Lagonda” appeared on the stand decor.
After being dazzled by a vivid yellow Renault 8S it was a relief to find all the Fiats in sombre blue, a colour chosen because every model in their vast range can be had in this finish. It was about now that D.S.J. said, pointing to the King Stereo stand, that he wanted a Big Twin, so W.B. hustled him off to the biggest stand of all, Ford’s, to see the Alan Mann racing Escort Twin-Cam saloon with very wide Goodyears and No. 35 on its flanks, which won the British Saloon Car Championship. But D.S.J. merely asked whether any Admirals had ordered anything at the office labelled “Fleet Sales”. . . . So the Editor hastily took him to see the Rootesmobiles but we were diverted by two scantily-clad girls reclining in one of these vehicles before a huge screen of constantly-changing skyscape and D.S.J. managed to look inside it and, seeing all the hot arc-lamps and unwinding film and whirring machinery, pronounced this the best thing in the Show, until he espied Jenny Nadin, who is now Rootes’ Competition Press Officer. But if she knew, she wasn’t telling any inside secrets about the new Holbay dual-Weber 105 b.h.p. H120 Sunbeam Rapier engine. Which was just as well, because D.S.J. was about to ask what they had done to the rest of the car to enable it to cope with the 20% power increase.
All this was too much for W.B., who thought what a pity it is that apart from Jaguar and Aston Martin and Lotus-Ford, British firms do not perpetuate former racing successes in their engine design, in the way that Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz do. If they didn’t win pre-war Grands Prix or other big races, at least makes like Austin, M.G. and Riley were prominent in less important competitions, winning long-distance Brooklands races, etc. But the four and six-cylinder supercharged, twin-cam, single o.h.c., and twin-high-camshaft, short-push-rod, inclined-valve engines of those days have given way to mundane B.M.C. four-cylinder power units with ordinary push-rod valve gear. D.S.J. countered by saying rubbish; B.M.C. win saloon-car races and big rallies with production-type engines having scientific combustion chambers.
This is true and we hear that Sir Donald Stokes is abandoning the B.M.C. Rally activities in favour of circuit racing, which causes our Rally Reporter to get very steamed-up. But this did not excuse the audacity of having an Austin-Healey Sprite racing coupé rotating on a dais beneath which was an illuminated statement proclaiming that it was the first British car to finish at Le Mans, for which it was awarded the Motor Trophy. It was the first British car to finish because it was the only one, and it finished last. How the Motor Trophy has fallen—it used to go to winning Jaguars. Another piece of high audacity was the notice proclaiming that the fuel-injection of the new Triumph 2500 P.I. is “a Tremendous New Move in the Power Game”, which should make Stuttgart smile.
At the Morgan stand D.S.J. asked W.B. if he wanted to own the new V8 sports car, even if it has 1950 road-holding. But W.B. just looked sadly at those crude strips of metal which are essential to the correct functioning of the steering, remembering how frequently they used to shear on his old Plus Four and he didn’t reply, although he was gratified to find a polished brass header tank on this vintage model and two universal joints in its steering column. D.S.J. began to praise Morgan’s honesty in retaining the name “Rover” on the camboxes but spoilt this by saying perhaps they can’t afford the cost of machining it off. . . . He then became very difficult, insisting that there must be a Jaguar E-type somewhere at Earls Court. But there wasn’t, until one day later. So he sat instead in the Chevrolet Astro 11 mid-engined coupé, which is easy to do because the body sills are on the doors, so that it is much easier to get into than a Ford GT40 and most other low, ultra-modern coupés. The Astro 11, described as a possible production reality, has suction fans for the rear-mounted radiator, a pure automatic transmission, leaf-spring rear suspension and 160 m.p.h. is claimed. D.S.J. said it was the nearest he had seen to a road-going Chaparral—look at the wheels, for instance—so here was another link with motor racing. The helpful young man on this General Motors stand also showed us the 7-litre 400 b.h.p. Chevrolet Corvette coupé, experimental three years or so ago but now in production. With a four-speed manual gearbox, tilting steering column for optimum driving position, boot access from within, racing seats and removable roof panels and back window like a de-luxe hard-top, this is America’s nearest to a proper GT car. After this the name Grand Prix on a big gormless Pontiac was ludicrous.
Following this peep into the future it was nasty to see an M.G.-B rolling over and over; it gave W.B. visions of the G.P.D.A. frantically blowing a whistle for their mobile Medical Unit and D.S.J. to remark that his favourite mouthful is “M.G.-C GT”, the coupé version of which proved to be a 2+1. M.G.s are, however, still the largest-selling imported sports cars to the U.S.A. Nearby there appeared to have been another terrible accident, with a Morris 1300 “bacon-sliced” into several parts. But it all went together again before we left, earning praise from Alan Hess, who didn’t hear D.S.J. mumbling that B.M.C. seemed to be chopping up cars instead of making them and W.B. to add that perhaps they were used to seeing their products come apart. An Austin 1800 was also having an accident. Looking the other way we saw a wooden speed-flash along the side of an Austin 1300 Countryman.
Bentley had come under the influence of flamboyant colours, with a convertible in mustard. The much-publicised Pininfarina Bentley was disappointing, a sort of T-series Continental. W.B. decided that the twin-cam Daimler limousine looks alright for Harold Wilson but was relieved to find that Rolls-Royce had a new Phantom VI for those Nobility and Gentry who have survived. In more practical terms, D.S.J. sat in and liked the Adam Opel coupé, a small GT car which those not sufficiently adventurous to have a Lotus are, he thought, likely to buy. You can have it in 1.1-litre or 1.9-litre form, but only with l.h.d. The headlamps emerge from beneath big covers when a little lever near the gear lever is operated.
The lines of the Triumph TR6 Mk. II were admired but it is cramped within and lacks even dog room in the back. Was it British Leyland policy which banished the sports Triumph TR5 to the “carriage work” section? The Reliant Scimitar GTE presumably stands for Grand Tamworth Estate, for we felt it could not mean Gran Turismo. In tact, it offers two, three or four good seats and lots of dog-room, as required, so beats the conventional estate-car. The glass-fibre fancy covers over the wheels were a rude reminder, however, that the Scimitar is a plastics car, which means it won’t rust. The Lotus Elan +2 had new centre-lock wheels, different from the bolt-on cast-alloy wheels of the Gilbern, which incorporates them as part of its full equipment, eschewing extras. Colin Chapman uses interior door handles like the clever ones on the big B.M.C. saloons! At the Saab stand we spent much time opening the bonnet of a 96. It ran forward on tiny wheels but under it there was the compact V4 Taunus Ford power pack, not the hoped-for o.h.c. Triumph engine. And Britain badly needs some new power units.
An Iso Rivolta had four doors, perhaps to match the Maserati Quattroporte, VW had only the new 411 on the stand, as if to diminish the Beetle image which W.B. said he hoped sincerely wasn’t the case, and we thought the accolade for ugliest car at the Show could well be awarded to the Bertone-bodied Lamborghini Espada, which looks like a State Occasion six seater for four. Still, there is the Miura. . . . Returning to cars one might buy instead of just look at, the Marcos with 3-litre V6 Ford engine was interesting; it follows Reliant, Gilbern and Savage in using Ford of Britain’s biggest engine. It has a 3.77-to-1 Ford axle, the famous wooden frame, pedals adjustable for reach by turning a knob (shades of a certain experimental Ford), overdrive as standard, rectangular headlamps and podgy AVON 175 x 13 tyres. The bonnet has been extended three inches and reformed and there are now twin, turned up tail pipes. The wooden-knobbed little lever for the Ford gearbox looks to be better placed than the similar gear change on Reliant Scimitar and Gilbern Genie cars, but only a test drive will tell.
Ferrari and Pininfarina both showed Dinos and of the race-bred Ferrari four-cam GTB4 Berlinetta coupé D.S.J. said that it is much nicer than the original version. Ogle had their own version of Scimitar GTE, reminder that they styled this body and then we spied the Bertone Corabo, called after a beetle adept at changing its colour. The green colour of this futuristic exercise varied its shade as we walked round it and its lift-up doors fascinated the onlookers but the real thing was that underneath it all was hidden a Tipo 33 Alfa Romeo. D.S.J. was about to try the driving position but the gentleman said no; and if you cannot sit in it how on earth are you to drive it? Perhaps it was just as well, however, because, unlike the Chevrolet Astro II, it would have been impossible to have got out of. Skoda showed a 1000 MB rally saloon from the 1968 Alpenfahrt.
That was about it, but as we strode across the Rover stand W.B. remembered that he has had over 18,000 comfortable and trouble-free miles out of the Editorial 2000TC, recently reshod with Pirelli Cinturatos because those were the tyres for which the suspension was primarily designed. What a pity the experimental Rover V8 GT coupé wasn’t on view, to prove that Solihull, too, can make an exciting mid-engined modern motor-car.