Matters of moment, November 1977

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The trend of design

lnspite of all the anti-pollution and fuel conservation restrictions, automobile design shows little curbing of initiative. The diesel engine, which Motor Sport has advocated, is making surprisingly good headway, led by Volkswagen’s noteworthy contribution, Mercedes-Benz, in this field, and Audi in the petrol-engine sphere, have introduced in-line five-cylinder power-units, and Colt have resorted to using a modern version of the Lanchester Harmonic Balancer to smooth-out their four cylinder power-packs. Light alloy retains its worthwhile place in engine manufacture, particularly at Rover’s, the classic twin cam valve-gear still finds it place under the bonnets of certain models made by Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Jaguar, Lotus, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota, and catalogue mid-engined coupes are multiplying satisfactorily. However, anyone who has read about the way in which the Ford Fiesta was planned and developed will have no illusions about the importance now being placed on styling, by the big motor manufacturers engaged in the top sales-rat-race. Thus it is that heed will be taken of the views expressed last September in Frankfurt by Sergio Pininfarina, right, Head of the famous Italian carrozzerie, when he addressed the European Motor Conference on the subject of “Trends in European Design”

Pininfarina was founded in 1930 by Signor R. Farina, who died in 1966. It is an independent company which today employs more than 2,000 people and is engaged in building over 20,000 body-shells a year for Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Fiat, Lancia, and Peugeot, styling prototype and experimental cars for the World’s motor and other manufacturers, and studying aerodynamics in a wind-tunnel, opened in 1972. It is estimated that to date, more than 15-million vehicles have been built to Pininfarina designs. These have embraced American, Argentinian, British (even unto those dreary 1959 BMC 1 1/2-litre saloons), French, German, Italian (of course), Japanese and Spanish makers.

After explaining the rather obvious reasons why American and European cars differ, neatly expressed as being affected by the enormous land surfaces, prevalently flat planes, wide roads, young cities, a rich economy, a high rate of individual income and, in former times, easy availability of low-price gasoline in the US, against the many mountains, tortuous roads, old cities with narrow streets, and a lower rate of individual income in the divided countries of Europe, which suffered so much from two World wars, Pininfarina referred to the adverse effect of speed-limits, introduced only recently in Europe. He also touched on the much shorter life of USA cars, produced by Motor Industry giants with a complex product-planning organisation. In this respect he reminded us that that against a new American car model every year, European cars have to last a long time – he instanced the Volkswagen Beetle as basically the same for 40 years, the Citroen DS19 in production for 9 years, the 18-year span of the Fiat 500 and Issigonis Mini, and the fact that the Pininfarina-designed Peugeot 404 appeared 16 years ago. (The Mini is about to be replaced, we are told, with a smaller BL car subsidised by the Government but it is depressing to learn that its mechanicals apparently be largely unchanged, if this implies but a small improvement in noise-levels and harsh ride -Ed.)

It is significant that Sergio Pininfarina feels that too much emphasis is being placed on building safety into modern cars, when “the causes and consequences of accidents depend even more on road conditions and tho human factors involved in driving”. Here the great Italian stylist emphasised that the American ESV, safety programme produced heavy, expensive prototypes “not at all suitable for mass production” He believes that total safety is not achievable and maybe is not even necessary, “because the great majority of accidents which cause death and injuries happen at speeds lower than the one prescribed by the ESV technical specifications”.

The ESV programme came out in 1969. But in 1963 Pininfarina already had a safety-prototype, the PF Sigma saloon, and in 1969 they built an F1 safety racing-car. Three years ago they did, study of vehicle directional-stability in cross-winds, for the Italian Government. Sergio Pininfarina pointed out the well-known dictum that safety-measures and energy-economics are in most cases diametrically opposed. But he said that among all the difficulties this presents, only one factor is positive -aerodynamics. In this context, hi recalled the Lancia Aprilia built by his father in 1937 (The finest small-car I drove before the war. -Ed.) and the BMC 1800 the “Big Mini” exhibited at the 1967 Turin Show as a proposal for an ideal aerodynamic five-seater saloon. (What of the pre-war aerodynamic Fiat t too saloon, owned for a time by Lord Brabazon of Tara? -Ed). Today Pininfarina carries on such experimenting in the wind-tunnel at their National research Centre.

Finally, the speaker said that he believed in a firm future for small concerns such as his and in the automobile as the basic and best means of transport. He reminded us that standardisation of design is unlikely and that those demagogues who propose it are losing ground to the peoples’ hots for individual cars and the popularity of the motor-car in Western and Eastern countries. He also remarked on the fact that competition motoring has never been so popular in every country as it is today, from rallies to Formula One. He said further, that as it is natural for men to admire a beautiful landscape or a picture (I am surprised that, as an Italian, he did not include beautiful women Ed.), he considered that car-styling will remain the most aggressive factor the Automobile Industry has available for the promotion of sales, and therefore he did not see why ugly cars should be thrust upon us, maybe by legislation.

Which is where we came in… .

Throwing in the sponge

It is sad news for Britain in general and Jaguar enthusiasts in particular that the two Jaguar sports/racing coupes have been abandoned by Leyland Cars, without gaining a single race-victory (but a second at the Nurburgring), and after experiencing a most unfortunate string of retirements. Except, of course, that the cost, variously estimated at from £25,000 to £500,000, is public money, from which some of the “shareholders” might have wished for a better return.

There have been cars all through history which have either never appeared in the races for which they were intended or which have come to the starting-grid and ignominiously fizzled-out. The Jaguar XJ coupes aroused much interest, even admiration, and enthusiasm was shown for them by British spectators when they held the lead briefly in a European Touring Car Championship race. But they were prematurely announced, with far too much misplaced confidence – always fatal – and they tailed to win at Le Mans, or elsewhere, as so many fine Jaguars had done before them. Now that they have been abandoned they will not even stand a chance of joining the notorious V16 BRM, which although a failure, did win a few races. Sad! For failure in F1, the top echelon of motor-racing, is more excusable than is a dismal flop in the easier field, technically, of Group 2 and Touring Car participation. The question that now forms in the mind is why can BRM do, repeatedly, what the long experience of Leyland, Jaguar, and Broadspeed have all failed to achieve? And has the right decision been taken? – inasmuch as eighteen months was, perhaps, too short a period in which to squeeze the mechanical bugs out of the complex and too heavy, V12 racing Jaguars. That other Nationalised Motor Company, Renault, is still persevering with its far more experimental F1 car!

It is all very unfortunate and what should be interesting Group 2 and Touring Car racing may now suffer from the demise of Jaguar, once a make with such a fine and proud competition record in this particular field. That the technical problems of these impressive-looking XJ Jaguars have proved impossible to solve cannot fail to have an adverse effect on the entire Leyland reputation. If the racing car of today teaches lessons applicable to the ordinary car of tomorrow, this applies even more so to sports/racing cars using production-type components. The Jaguar withdrawal, therefore, undermines confidence, even if ever so slightly, in future BL products, from the New Mini upwards. Unkind people have already suggested that BL’s “Supercover” wouldn’t be necessary if reliability in the first year’s usage could be ensured certainly our first experience of it, when the Editorial Rover 3500 expired recently, was that it works splendidly if the AA is at hand, but that otherwise that initial relief at prompt removal of the stricken Leyland product from the highway is tarnished when the BL Agent demands his towing-in fee; which, however, is apparently recoverable from the AA, if you don’t mind all the paperwork… .

Ansaldo Register

Alastair L. Wilkie, of 11 McGregor Street, Canterbury, Victoria 3126, Australia, informs us that an Ansaldo Register has been formed to promote interest in preservation and restoration of the marque Ansaldo. The Register hopes to help Ansaldo owners with spare parts and attempt to establish a small library of information on these cars, made in Turin between 1822 and 1935. Alastair Wilkie will welcome correspondence from interested parties.