Ramblings, Rumours and Reminiscences. Being Asides About All Sorts of Things.
WHAT a wonderful time for an motorists is Showtime and curiously does the great exhibition cause one to look back to the times when the whole motor industry was a very different affair from that which we know to-day.
Though the general interest in the exhibition has a far greater public appeal than it did of yore, it is in many ways less interesting than in the period when sensational designs, entirely new machines, to say nothing of weird inventions, astounded a public already more or less accustomed to extraordinary developments.
As a youngster I remember assisting at the first Automobile Show held at the Royal Agricultural Hall at Islington, when the number of exhibitors was so small that a very large portion of the main hall was allocated as an arena, round which demonstrations of cars took place every day. At that time demonstrators were divided into two classes, namely those who wore silk hats and those who did not. For some reason, which I was never able to fathom it was considered the thing to dress up in faultless morning attire in order to masquerade as a real expert, though there were certain dissentients who plied their trade in a kind of undress yachting costume, complete with close-fitting peaked caps, a form of apparel affected by such stalwarts as S. F. Edge and Charlie Jarrott, but in the main, exhibitors sought to conceal the shortcomings of those veteran cars behind their own personal adornment. But, nevertheless, the Show was a Show in those bygone days and some real excitement was to be obtained for the modest shilling charged for admission. I rem. ember how Charles Friswell (afterwards Sir Charles) making a sensational appearance in the arena at the wheel of a racing Peugeot, which he started by the aid of a thing he called a” toothpick.” This was for hold ing the atmospheric inlet valves whilst the starting handle was cranked and when the engine was induced to perform, a young pandemonium broke forth with the
result that everyone in the Hall rushed away from the stands to see what was happening.
Charles held his own in racing round the arena, until one morning a very fat young man named Barber made his appearance on a little Stanley steam car and promptly proceeded to make rings round Mr. Fiiswell, much to the delight of a sporting crowd, which yelled with delight to see the diminutive steamer belching forth flames and steam under the direction of its driver, who apparently desired to make a Grand Finale by bursting his boiler. Of course nobody much bought any cars at the Show, it was merely a gigantic spectacle and served as very good propaganda by which the public were instructed as to the mysteries of motor mechanism, but even the youngest and least informed of the exhibitors’ assistants were
not unduly worried, because no laymen had the remotest ideas as to motor mechanism. How different to-day, when every schoolboy knows everything about supercharging—or thinks he does, which is perhaps worse— and a stand attendant has to be very careful lest he is bowled out in technics by some country farmer, who has come up to buy a Morris Cowley.
Modern shows are little more than market places for prospective car purchasers, but one cannot help being struck by the extraordinary paucity of really useful literature distributed from the stands. It always seems to me that catalogues are prepared either by (A) members of the firms drawing office staff or (B) their advertising agents. In the first case the pages are mostly devoted to very scratchy specifications and in the latter by literature that may be more or less accurately described under the generic term of “tripe.”
Every year manufacturers have a wonderful chance of informing the public as to the vitally interesting parts of their cars, but on the whole the cataloguing of the Show is as weak as it was in pre-war days. Not that the catalogues are not very elaborate, for many are produced at enormous cost, but as far as the prospective purchaser is concerned they are of very little value.
As one who has for many years endeavoured to extract information from the exhibitors for Press purposes, the lack of interest displayed by some firms is nothing short of marvellous. It is indeed a matter of great surprise that the Show reports are as accurate as they are and no one who has never tackled the job can have the least idea as to the difficulties in getting the required information from people on the stands, few of whom seem to have the remotest idea as to the exact contents of the packing cases which arrive but a few hours in advance of the private view day.
At this time of the year one’s thoughts naturally turn to the great question of mass production, without which it is impossible to produce cars at anything like the price the public are prepared to pay. But, this system of manufacture has, it seems to me, a very important influence upon after purchase service. If we go through any motor factory organised on modern lines, we see how every man-jack of the concern has his own little bit of a job to do and no doubt he does it extraordinarily well, else the sack would be his portion. As a method of production, the mass principle is undoubtedly the right thing, but I always shudder to think where the repair mechanics of the future are corning from. Modern conditions do not tend towards the cultivation of the all-round knowledge, so necessary in repair operations. The man who bolts the gear box to the engine knows nothing about the action of the carburettor, having little time or inclination to learn. The art of scraping bearings is fast disappearing among the limbo of forgotten things, so where oh ! where are we to get mechanics to perform those intricate adjustments which become so necessary from time to time ? The average motorist is quite content to run his car for a year until funny noises become objectionable and
the machinery ceases to work with its original sweetness. Then, off he goes to the nearest agent with the partial wreck and haggles over the price to be allowed for it in part payment for a new model, but the really keen and sporting motorist abhors such a procedure, preferring to keep his bus in good tune by regular adjustments and renewals. As the years go by, the problem of the repair mechanic becomes more and more acute and modern methods of manufacture, whilst helping the purchasers of new cars, certainly tend towards a scarcity of really all-round mechanics, such as could be found in great numbers a few years ago.
It is rather alarming to pick up any programme of a B.A.R.C. race meeting and notice how few of the competing cars are of British manufacture. If we neglect the ” Specials ” or non-production models, the British industry may be said to be practically unrepresented on the track, which is very sad. It cannot be that our manufacturers know all there is to know about the type of machine beloved by the sporting driver, but year after year the great opportunities of improving the breed (to use a hackneyed expression) are studiously neglected. It is useless to argue that sporting cars are not wanted because we know that the demand exists and always will exist, in spite of grandmotherly legislation and kill-joy trade organisations.
This year Bugatti has found a very good market in this country and now America has realised the fact that we are being starved for sporting cars, hence the threatened invasion by the Stutz car, which is a very good proposition and is backed by an organisation formed of practical racing men and a very enviable list of racing successes in the country of its origin.
The phase of competition motoring is far from losing ground and if we cannot buy British cars with which to participate in the great pastime, well, it will have to be Continental or American machines.
If rumour is correct the Stutz people are not alone in having designs upon the British sporting car market, for I learn that a new Marmon is under weigh, which, built in strict accordance with the demands of the sporting driver will be capable of maintaining over 70 m.p.h. under ordinary road conditions.
In our last issue an interesting letter from Mr. J. R. Simpson was very welcome as expressing the views of the type of reader for whom Motor Sport makes a special appeal. Unless readers send us their views as to the character of the contents of the various issues, there is always a chance of drifting automatically into a kind of standard list of contents, some items of which may be more interesting than others.
As we are always anxious to make our pages of the greatest value to sporting motorists, it is very helpful to receive letters which indicate quite clearly the kind of contributions that are best received.
We are not averse to criticism, especially of a constructive nature, therefore any views on the subject our readers may care to express are certain to receive due consideration.