On September 22 the BBC’s Top Gear team played a new version of the old game “which are the dozen best cars?” by recalling those which in its opinion were the best remembered over the past eight decades. The cars were well selected, and their merits and faults discussed after a filmed run.
From the first decade the choice was inevitably the 1906-07 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost (AX 201), whose quiet running was compared to the ticking-clock syndrome. But the tester actually ventured criticism of its rear platform springing.
The Model-T Ford was the car of the next decade, its simplicity described as a nightmare for those used only to modern transmissions. Its engine (“the very first monobloc four with a detachable head”— grabs for avid historians?) was praised as a great step forward.
The following decade’s choice was an Austin 7 Chummy (XO 6852) which the female tester cranked-up with a detachable starting handle. A fun car, she declared.
Next, a Citroen Traction Avant, with perhaps a rather exaggerated chevron on its grille. A 25% weight-reduction over contemporary family cars was ascribed to the box-sectioned chassis. Its fascia gear-stick was pointed out, gear-ratios said to be well-spaced, and 6-60 mph possible in top — the FWD breakthrough and a delight to drive.
1940-50 produced the Volkswagen Beetle, 21-million strong and still being made. The car filmed (JLT 420, the blue two-tone 1947 example of Colbourne-Baber) was the first Beetle I drove, for Motor Sport. I think it was Baber himself who gave the crisp Top Gear commentary. The final remark, “They will never die”, is my sentiment exactly.
Next, the Citroen DS19, with its advanced hydraulics, which, we were told, gave early anxiety due to driveshaft breakages, and so on. But the aerodynamics of the sleek 1955 DS and its fibreglass roof were emphasised.
The Mini Minor was the car of 1960-70 of course, giving rise to the expected remarks, although the sump-contained gears were not mentioned. The car shown (621 AOK) was said to have been the last off the line.
Anticipating the hot-hatches of today, the Alfasud was next. Its wonderful handling by 1970s standards was due to a low centre of gravity obtained by putting a flat-four engine ahead of the driven front wheels.
Finally, the Audi Quattro was selected for setting others on the safe, stable four-wheel drive path. You might not agree with all the BBC’s selections, but you should have enjoyed the programme. WB