“There’s no Business like Show Business” — so run the words of a popular song and they were unquestionably true of some of our great Motor Exhibitions held at Olympia and White City in the days of long ago. I sincerely hope they may be true of the Motor Show at Earls Court which opens to-day. If they are not, the Government will have only itself to blame. We have existed in a state of peace for quite a while now, but private motoring is still restricted to approximately three miles a day. Purchase tax is still payable on new cars and double purchase tax on the over £1,000 cars which our British Motor Industry makes rather well. Our great car-producing factories at Birmingham, Coventry, Dagenham, Luton and Oxford, which contributed so nobly to the country’s war-winning effort, have been churning out their products in most creditable quantities to assist the Export Drive, yet even now only driblets of new cars are spared for home consumption, and you have to sign covenants and consult waiting lists before you can drive a 1949/50 car. People who feel the urge to become drivers must buy a 5s. licence every three months until they pass a Government driving test, to take which they forfeit a further fee of 7s. 6d., as likely as not for the privilege of being “failed” because they cannot recite, parrot-fashion, every item of the Highway Code to the Civil Servant who examines them. Incidentally, if they DO pass first try, they are then entitled to buy another 5s. (annual) licence and step straight out of the F.I.A.T. Mouse or whatever they were tested in and go kill someone with a G.P. Bugatti.
Now does all this add up to a good buyer’s market; an incentive to go to Earls Court and choose a new car? I leave the answer to you, and I would ask you to consider what is going to happen within the next year or two, if the demand for British cars in our Export markets begins to diminish and the Industry has to seek sales at home. Surely to-day, right now, it is time to make Britain motor-minded, and so keep virile the great Industry which manufactures her cars and the garages, service stations and subsidiary industries which have been ably revived since the war and which are now geared-up almost to pre-1939 standards — abolition of the standard petrol ration will certainly kill them off and give rise to an embarrassing unemployment problem. And remember, please, that a Government which deems that increasing the standard ration to the equivalent of six miles a day for three months this summer is a concession to the motorist, cannot, unless it is kicked and prodded pretty hard and consistently by potential voters, be expected to respect the interests of our third largest industry. As things are at present, those people who used to fall conveniently under the heading of Mr. and Mrs. John Bull cannot he blamed if they don’t seem especially interested in the new cars which they can see at Earls Court . . .
Whether or not last year’s record crush (attendance 562,000) will have to be endured at this year’s show I would rather not predict. Some of that vast 1948 crowd had war gratuities and war-overtime to spend and genuinely wanted a 1949 car. They fought or queued, according to their natures, to see, stare at, sit in and otherwise statically sample such desirable conveyances as the new Vauxhalls and the delightful little Morris Minor. They enquired eagerly how they could pay their money and drive away. Mostly they couldn’t and whether they will return this year or whether they have meanwhile bought a used car, taken to boating, golf, hoopla or drinking, or have merely emigrated, isn’t my line in prophesy. But I do believe that if the Industry isn’t enabled to take their money soon, and Government departments their tax and driving licence and petrol duty payments, then our standard of living in the years to come will deteriorate still further and the spectre of mass unemployment will rise again. Verily, the salvation of this blessed isle may rest not only in export sales but on its own town thoroughfares and country lanes filling with Anglias and Minors (tush, the man talks like a journalist, but there, there may be much in what he says!).
Another section of last year’s vast Earls Court crowd which may or may not repeat its visit this time wasn’t composed of car buyers at all. These people went to look at the exhibits just as they flock to the Zoo to see their caged forebears but not to buy the animals, or go round Madame Tussaud’s to gape at the wax images without any desire to take home replicas of Mr. Attlee or other notabilities (in any case, perhaps they would prefer Mr. Churchill). And Earls Court must have been fun, because if you were lucky you swiped an ash-tray or a door handle without being seen and if you felt Socialism in Britain was going the wrong way you could vent your wrath by slashing the cushions of a Daimler or a Rolls-Royce.
There remain the Overseas-Buyers, for whom Earls Court is really intended and of whom 8,000 have been specially invited. Most of these people are used to buying as much petrol as they want or can afford, at 8d. or 9d. a gallon, and burning it in vast automobiles, gaudy but serviceable, which roll back three or four hundred miles a day in (perhaps dangerous) comfort and at no mean lick, along the metal and dirt roadways of this troubled world. I should, therefore, review the exhibits in the same light, but I find this impossible, for a motoring journalist in Britain not only cannot afford to run an American automobile (luckily this one doesn’t want to) but he needs nearly five-months’ standard ration before he can cover 400 miles, while he is thankful that he is asked only 2s. 0 3/4d. per gallon for non-branded, low-octane petrol, due, he supposes, to a piece of merciful providence which he doesn’t fully comprehend and is fearful to enquire into. He cannot purchase a new British car unless he thought fully put down his name five years or so ago and he cannot conduct free road-tests for his paper because even our manufacturers are sadly short of petrol. So you must excuse him if he doesn’t seem to know very much about present-day Motoring and tends to talk all “Veteran Types” and “Vintage Veerings.”
I feel confident that on the stands of our specialist manufacturers — like Allard, Aston-Martin, Bristol, Bentley, Jaguar, Jowett, Rolls-Royce, and the rest — the Overseas Buyers will find worthwhile cars able to compete favourably with American tin-wear.
It is vitally necessary for the future well-being of this country that they should.
Some of my own impressions of these cars may be of interest to them, especially as a car tried on the road is worth two seen on the stand. There is the Jowett “Javelin” for example. I tried it both as a rather rough and-ready prototype and in production form and it was refreshing technically and in respect of performance — by reason of its o.h.v. 1 1/2-litre flat-four light-alloy engine, torsion-bar suspension and wind-defeating bodywork and its good acceleration, genuine 75 m.p.h., safe braking and excellent fuel consumption. A bit noisier than some perhaps, and a trifle softly sprung for its generous ground clearance, the “Javelin” was recognised nevertheless as a great little car, very roomy withal. The way it vanquished the big touring cars and some of the sports cars at Spa, has raised many an eyebrow, and suffice it to say that the proprietor of Motor Sport, who tried both the cars I tested, now owns two himself and that an engineer and ex-racing motorist friend who tried one of them is also a “Javelin” owner to-day. Brief experience of the Mk VI Bentley confirmed it as one of our really fine cars, silent, supple, having that delightful right-hand gear-change, able to reach upwards of 90 m.p.h. very quickly indeed and to slow as rapidly when its Rolls-Royce mechanical servo brakes were applied — but the car sampled carried a “utility” body and as it isn’t good to peer into the mirror at an indicated 100 m.p.h., and as in this country such a body automatically imposes a speed limit of 80 m.p.h., this beautiful and expensive vehicle constituted something of an embarrassment. It would probably take a very good Hendon mobile in a better-than-average police car to even read the Bentley’s number if he saw fit to pursue it. But there is such a thing as the telephone and the road-barrier and I expect it costs more if you are stopped that way.
A Vauxhall “Velox” offered unexpected speed and fine top-gear acceleration on quite a high gear ratio, and on 2 1/2 litres and six cylinders seemed able to do most of what the many-litred Americans do — and they don’t do it at a fuel consumption as low as 25 m.p.g.!
The much-discussed Standard “Vanguard” is an interesting approach to utilitarian motoring and the one we tried put its speedometer round to 75 m.p.h., used “Pool” at the rate of 28 m.p.g., handled better than we had expected and averaged 45 m.p.h. on British main-cum-secondary roads. It was certainly the fastest Standard I have driven across England or anywhere else, and I hope another good car’s reputation isn’t going to be spoiled by ridiculous performance claims it cannot uphold.
The Morris Minor proved one of the best little British cars I’ve ever driven — chiefly because it handles so delightfully, so that I had to admit that the rear-engined Renault does oversteer whereas, before borrowing a Minor in which to motor to and from the British G.P. at Silverstone, I would hear nothing adverse about the French car. Both are delightful and if the fetters about which we pondered earlier in this article did not exist, they would be just the cars for impoverished Britain. Indeed, so truly delightful did I find the Morris Minor that when returned it to the makers I asked how soon I could purchase one (in this I was influenced by my wife) and also how soon one could be supplied to Motor Sport for use as an economic staff car. I was told flatly that so great is the demand abroad for these Minors that every single one turned out for a long time to come would be exported. So I can only conclude that those I now encounter on our roads are experimental cars driven by employees of Morris Motors and I must say these fortunate ladies and gentlemen contrive to look just like ordinary owner-drivers and that they fetch up at some truly delightful places. I appreciate, of course, that Prince Birabongse and Tom Dollery, the Warwickshire cricket captain, are in a different category!
My impressions of the Sunbeam-Talbot “80” appeared in the last issue, at a time when this car was very much in the public eye because its bigger brother, the “90,” had done so well in the very arduous Alpine Rally, while the Hillman Minx that I used as hack transport throughout the period of the great B.R.D.C./Daily Express race meeting showed just how roomy, quiet, comfortable, brisk and easy to drive a modern, inexpensive British family car can be.
Naturally readers of Motor Sport are interested in individualistic high-performance and they will find it offered just as effectively and sincerely to-day on the stands of the specialist British manufacturers as in the past. The Aston-Martin is there, the new push-rod o.h.v. model which won the 24-Hour Race at Spa last year and, if it hasn’t quite maintained this early promise, it has had some convincing class victories this season in saloon form. I know from experience of it that the remarkably supple coil-spring suspension is in some mysterious way wedded to incredibly good roadholding. The Aston-Martin is suffering a little, perhaps, from changes in the designing staff, but when its sponsors have decided whether to give it the Lagonda engine and i.r.s., or to retain its push-rods and “solid” axle, it should go right ahead.
The Frazer-Nash will attract a lot of attention after its great performance at Le Mans where it was beaten only by Ferrari and Delage and at Silverstone where only the larger Jaguar vanquished it. Those odd people who never can accept British achievements wholeheartedly complained because the car was red and therefore mistaken for an Italian (what a compliment!) at Le Mans and even rumoured that the engine was that from the 1940 “Mile Miglia ” B.M.W. — things to which you and I don’t listen, so that they in no way detract from the admiration those “in the know” feel for a very fine competition car. Its far less-spartan companion, the Bristol, is not only the personification of the high-grade, beautifully appointed British quality car, but it is building up quite a list of competition successes, and on only 2 litres. Cars like this make one wonder whether large engines are justified in the post-war scene.
The Jaguar will probably attract more favourable attention than any other high-performance car in the Show. I know that in 3 1/2-litre saloon guise this is a very fine, 90 m.p.h. car, but it is the twin o.h.c. 3 1/2-litre “XK” Super Sports model that will draw the crowds. Priced at under £1,000 and possessing really beautiful lines, this Jaguar, which sprung such a well-timed surprise at Earls Court last year, has since done 132.6 m.p.h. on pump fuel, thus proving itself easily the World’s fastest production sports car, and it has set the seal to its reputation and entered the ranks of really great cars, by winning the Daily Express Production Car Race at Silverstone last month. Which reminds me that the Healey has been called “the World’s fastest touring car,” a tribute to its tractability and comfortable suspension, and obviously the latest “Silverstone” model — Team Prize winner in the Production Car Race — should be an even better performer. But I cannot be personal about the Healey because its makers have found themselves unable to meet our repeated requests to try one. This position has now been rectified and the result of our test will be fully reported in the next issue.
The Allard in its latest form is bound to excite widespread interest, for it is said to be good for about 100 m.p.h., yet it races up Prescott (where it holds the sports car record) and round Goodwood and Silverstone, with equal facility, and the coil-spring, divided front axle and de Dion back axle are fine pieces of work — American visitors, in particular, should approve of this car, which is easily serviced by Ford dealers, yet which constitutes a perfectly roadworthy “hotrod.”
Austin will undoubtedly show the “A90,” one of which went so fast and so far at Indianapolis ealier this year without too many things falling off — and the fact that the battery puts the hood up is ever an attraction. Sports-type highperformance will also be found on the M.G., Morgan and Riley stands, where there are even open two-seaters.
Of the entirely new models so far released, the E.R.A.-Javelin is perhaps the most exciting and details will be found in the appropriate place in this issue. Rolls-Royce, too, whose cars continue to represent British refinement and reliability in its highest form, present the new “Silver Dawn,” for export only.
It is to these cars that those from overseas will mainly turn. They will find them of high quality, and of genuine high performance against the watch. Many of the cars they knew last year and in 1947, they will find effectively improved in detail. So I think they will like these specialist British cars and I hope they buy them in quantity. There are, of course, omissions at Earls Court. Nowhere shall I be able to find anything quite so simple, economical and foolproof as my outwardly-shabby fifteen-year-old Austin Seven which has been grossly abused, has run 40,600 miles between head-lifting, and which still does over 44 m.p.g. Now that it is a bit long in the tooth, my wife, accompanied by a provisional licence, L-plates and a competent driver, is learning to control this juggernaut. And you won’t find quite its equivalent in inexpensive transportation even in the Morris Minor — I might almost add, “of any age.” As an aside, one of the few stimulants I know in Socialist Britain to-day is to drive up from my home to London and back in this rattletrap accompanied by two friends or my wife and children and then do a sum on the back of any available envelope — for I then discover I have saved over 26s. by NOT travelling third-class on the people’s railway. If you could do it often enough the car and its licence would pay for itself, and you jolly well ought to be allowed to. Lord Nuffield and Sir William Rootes and “Mr. Vauxhall” and “Mr. Austin” and Sir John Black are past-masters in the art of making, selling and servicing the people’s cars. With a generous petrol ration, or no rationing at all, and abolition of purchase tax, they would be able to get on with the job of re-opening the home market by offering inexpensive, virtually foolproof and essentially reliable personal transport to the masses who need only slender encouragement to invest in it. Let the people build little garages to house their little cars and, even if car export sales fall, the British Motor Industry will be kept on its toes ready to build locomotives the nationalised railways don’t know how to profitably employ, or air-liners for Government airways that are losing more public money, or atom-bombs or guided missiles or any other things the Government may wish it to make — just as it made guns and tanks and aeroplanes and flame throwers and every conceivable kind of war equipment only a few years ago.
But we were discussing cars which should be at the Show, but aren’t. Apart from the purely utilitarian sort of vehicle, which perhaps we can leave safely to the French, there is a dearth of small-engined normal economy cars. It was revealed recently in a contemporary that one of our leading manufacturers had a 700-c.c. saloon on the stocks but dropped the project. That was a great pity, even if its o.h. inlet engine didn’t seem to give a lot more power than your enthusiast gets from his special Austin Seven.
What I visualise is a cross between the present utility car made by Citroën and those attempts which Gillett, Morris, Jowett, Ford, Waverley, Laffite and others — remember them? — made at producing £100 or 100 guinea cars many years ago.
And I am pained not to see the sort of 1,100-c.c., tubular-chassis lightweight two-seater able to do its 75 m.p.h., and 85 m.p.g., about which I have pressed for so long and, I hope, ardently, in Motor Sport.
The really fierce sports cars once represented by the big Mercédès-Benz or blower Bentley or “Zagato” Alfa-Romeo won’t be at Earls Court, but I am inclined to think that the 132-m.p.h. twin-cam Jaguar is a worthy substitute. Otherwise the Show will be full of the most desirable cars of all sizes and types.
If they are metaphorically labelled DO NOT COVET, I think my readers are in a happier position than many people. They must be enthusiasts or they wouldn’t read Motor Sport. So they can enjoy the better second-hand cars (the prices of which are falling, ever falling) can restore vintage sports cars and rare veterans to good order and generally go on living in the past for a while longer.
The vintage sports car may no longer equal or surpass the performance of its modern counterpart (even Sam Clutton admits that) but it gets along very creditably nevertheless, and those elderly cars which make no pretence of being “sports” at least go on going without developing noticeable wear. So the motorists of this country (the real motorists that is) should be able to remain on the road for quite a time to come, even if in the end they have to build themselves cyclecars with the aid of discarded bedsteads and old motorcycles. Even now some of these good folk are avidly searching for replacement rubber bulbs for their car’s horns, and even Sir Stafford Cripps will not be able to suppress that sort of thing.
So whether many of my readers will be at Earls Court remains to be seen. Perhaps next year I shall be able to be a good (if dishonest) journalist and bid them set fire to all their nonsense and troop forth to buy a NEW BRITISH CAR. Meanwhile, I direct that message to our visitors from over the seas, wishing them an enjoyable look-see at this Shop Window of the British Motor Industry, whose products, we know from past experience, are the finest in the world. — W. Boddy