Supercars at the show

More than 50 new cars made their Earls Court debut at this year's London Motor Show, the last appearance of this British Motoring Bonanza in the capital before base is moved to Birmingham in 1978, so the SMM & T tell us. If the volume of new models sounds astonishing in these tight-pursed days, then the profusion of expensive supercars was utterly amazing. Telephone number-like prices filled windscreens-20,000£30,000 has become commonplace in 1976—and the search for performance would seem to be unimpeded by the stringencies of blanket speed limits. In fact Earls Court 1976 proved a cornucopia of supercars as never before, a womb of fantasy for small boys young and old. We too indulged in a little dreaming and sought out a selection of exotica above a base restriction of 110,000, 130 m.p.h. and, give or take a few c.c.s, 3-litre capacity. Bankrupt Britain's motoring world is your oyster, Mr. Millionaire.

The star of the Show and the best-kept secret of all had to be the sensational Aston Martin Lagonda, practical futurism with sophisticated style and splendid luxury.We all knew that Aston were revising the 4-door Lagonda first shown a couple of years ago; in fact Peter Sprague and his Aston co-directors had thrown this out as a red herring, for the astonishing reality was a totally new body/chassis unit of superbly, proportioned -wedge shape. By the end of Press day. Aston Martin had sold the entire 1977 production of this Lagonda now a model, not a marque name), 'which was hardly surprising. The.aluminium wedge body houses The same 5,340 c.c. all-aluminium, 4-cam V8 With Torquellite automatic or 5-speed ZF manual transmission as the Aston Martin V8. Unnequal-length wishbone front suspension and de 'Dion rear axle is modified from the V8 application, with different Camber and Akerman angles at the front and re-positioned rear Watt linkage. Burman variable ratio steering with two-stage power assistance has been adopted.

What makes this Lagonda unique is its use of electrically-controlled instruments which incorporate graphic and digital displays and touch switches for all the-controls., including the automatic gearbox select km. There is even an electronically-controlled display showing the average speed and fuel consumption on a journey, combined with a speed/instantaneous fuel consumption reading. This display also has an elapsed time and distance reading. A mock-up facia alongside the bronze Show car (the sole prototype) demonstrated to an incredulous public that this fascinating brainchild of Aston Chief Engineer Mike I.Aiasby is a practical and working proposition.

The price of this 140 plus William Towns-Styled Aston Martin Lagonda is as yet unannounced, but must be over £20,000.

Even the more informed of motoring journalists,seem to be confused by the Maserati situation. Last year the sign of the trident seemed to have met its end when Citroen, the parent company, pulled out. There were rumours of De Tomaso negotiating or a takeover: but that story went cold. The marque appeared to be consigned to the annals of history. Then out of the blue, there they were at the Paris Show with a full range at cars—and a brand-new model. the Kyalami! They were at Earls Court too, sharing the De Tomaso stand which told its own story. In fact Maserati has been saved by the combined efforts of the Italian Government. who own 60% of the company, and Alessandro De Tomaso who owns the rest.

Of course all the Maserati models on show fitted the requirements it our exercise Merak, Khamsin and Kyalami (the Bora was absent, but is available to spceial order), but the first two are familiar. The delectable Frua-designed Kyalami, replacement for the Indy is a front-engined 2 + 2 sports coupe using the 4,136-c.c. version of the familiar Maserati 4-cam V8. This offers 270 b.h.p. and 150 m.p.h. in its 5-speed manual form. Automatic is optional. The price has yet to be announced.

Much in evidence on the stand was the British De Tomaso concessionaire. Mario Condivi, who has now regained the Maserati concession which he held for more than 15 years before Citroen took over. Condivi told us of plans to start a 300 series run of Kyalamis in January and for total Maserati production to be raised from 600 to 1000 units annually. The Khamsin currently takes 60% of production. As for De Tomaso, production of the Pantera L and GTS. Longchamps and Deauville is being restricted to 250 per year "to ensure exclusivity". Most of the production goes to the States.

While Porsche were pushing hard the new tight-hand-drive version of the 924 on their stand, our attention went straight to the mouthwatering Turbo, resplendent in red, white and blue Martini colours inside and out, an optional extra on top in the standard £19,499.22. We were captivated. The 1977 Turbo has new forged wheels, an air pump in the turbo charging system to give the same power and torque at lower r.p.m.. a turbocharger boost gauge. a self-seeking stereo cassette unit—and 150 m.p.h. plus, 0-100 m.p.h. in 12.5 sec-. performance. Fifty-three people in Britain can claim to own such ecstasy.

Just across the way from Porsche, Lamborghini importer Roger Phillips boasted even more performance from the unbelievable Countach. In fact he and a journalist friend of this writer claimed to have seen 180 m.p.h. out of the bronze-coloured Show car whilst blowing-off a flat-out XJ-S during the delivery trip from Italy! If exclusivity is what you want and £23,000 is available to pay for it, the Countach could be for you, for there are only eight in Britain. Improvements to the 1977 Countach include improved starting and reductions in noise front the V12's high-pressure oil-pump.

That perfectionist in motoring artistry Bob Jankel had much to offer on the Panther stand, including his new Vauxhall-based Lima Sports car, not, however, a supercar contender. At £30,578.66, the new Panther De Ville convertible most certainly is, though, with 140 m.p.h. on tap from its Jaguar V12 engine. The convertible is a two-door, slightly more barrel-shaped version of the De Ville limousine. For quality of its maroon and cream paintwork, leather upholstery and walnut facia it was probably unsurpassed at the Show. A must for one-upmanship in Beverley Hills or Saudi Arabia and a fine example of English craftsmanship.

Less ostentatious, but still delectable, was Leyland's supercar, the Jaguar XJ-S. At £10,507 for such silence and 150-m.p.h. performance it represented the bargain supercar of the Show. In our brief wander-round on Press day we saw two XJ-Ss much in evidence, a bright yellow one sandwiched between a Rover 3500 and a Jaguar XJ 3.4 at ground level, and a beautiful metallic light-blue example slumming it on a plinth with matching Marinas, Allegros and TR7s. Our minds went back to that ultra-fast trip we made to Germany in the V12 X J-S earlier this year and again we were filled with admiration for the Jaguar engineers who can produce such perfection at a knock-down price.

In a more traditional British supercar vein we had a new handcrafted offering from Anthony Crook's Bristol Cars. The 603 replaces the 411 series, first introduced in 1969. Though looking every inch a Bristol, the 603 is lower, sleeker, more agile looking than the square and heavy 411 series yet has more interior space in all dimensions than the old model. It has a choice of two Chrysler V8 engines smaller than the 6 1/2-litre 411. The 603S has a 5.9-litre. 4-barrel-carburetter engine, while the economy model, the 603E. has but 5.2-litres and a 2-barrel carburetter. Torqueflite transmission is retained and the wishbone/coil-spring front suspension and torsion-bar/Watts linkage; self-levelling rear suspension is much as that of the 411. We were impressed by the minute attention to detail in this exquisite 140-m.p.h. motor car—,details such as individual switches for different directional electrically-operated adjustment of the front seats, including back-rest adjustment, contrasting with the infuriating, hit-and-miss joystick controls on the Rolls-Royce Camargue we had driven the previous day. Compared with a Camargue the 603 is sylph-like, quality without vulgarity. I iowever, the lines of the Bristol 412 convertible alongside drew less compliments from us. You will have some change out of £20,000 from the 603 purchase and the satisfaction that only 149 other people a year are discerning enough to buy Bristol.

No mention can be made of supercars without reference to Ferrari. We thought the Berlinetta Boxer to be the ultimate in supercars, but Ferrari obviously thought not, for from this they have developed the 512BB, with a claimed 188 m.p.h. maximum speed. The Berlinetta Boxer's flat-12 engine has had its capacity increased from 4,390 c.c. to 4,942 c.c. in this guise, to produce 360 b.h.p. The 512 BB also gets wider wheels and tyres, flared wheel arches to accommodate them and NACA air intakes on the sides for rear brake cooling. The cost of such a dream-car? £23,868.

Also new from Ferrari was the 400GT, which replaces the 365 GT4 2+2. Its V12 engine is increased in capacity to 4,823 c.c. and, for the first time ever, Ferrari are offering an automatic gearbox choice on this model, which costs £22,464.

Who would have thought that a four-door limousine would ever reach the supercar bracket? Mercedes have produced just such a device in the 450SE 6.9, £22,000 flagship of the range. The 6,834-c.c. dry-sump V8 engine is developed from that of the old 300SEL 6.3 model and is reputed to propel this big saloon at 150 m.p.h. Hydropneumatic suspension and anti-squat is featured. There is a pleasant lack of ostentation about this new Mercedes, but one wonders whether there is too little to differentiate it from the £9,000 cheaper 450SEL 4.5, from which it is externally distinguishable merely by a badge and wider wheels, and which has almost identical interior fitments.

Earls Court marked the British introduction of the new BMW 633 CSi, driving impressions of which we described in our May issue. Two elegant silver examples—one manual, one automatic— graced the stand. Beautifully proportioned and beautifully finished. these 140-m.p.h. six-cylinder coupes were covetable, but are they really worth £13,599 ?—C.R.