Small Car Comparisons

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Orders for the new B.M.C. small cars, which we described in detail last month, are pouring in and enormous enthusiasm is being displayed, so that no excuse is needed for returning to the subject.

In the first place, now that independent road-test reports have appeared (we await our turn impatiently and with keen anticipation), it is pleasing to be able to place on record the honesty of the performance claims made by the B.M.C. for its new infants. Taking the average of figures from two reliable sources, one for the Austin, the other for the Mini-Minor, both in de luxe form, and comparing them with these claims (Table 3), it can be seen how modest were most of the maker’s performance predictions. The only real discrepancies concern petrol economy and braking efficiency, and it is possible that the Press had cars still initially stiff, whereas the B.M.C. may have obtained its figures with cars that had travelled farther. The B.M.C.’s acceleration figures from one speed to another appear optimistic, their 0-given m.p.h. recordings pessimistic, but this could be because they timed on a swinging speedometer needle, the journalists from steady speeds. It remains to be seen whether the somewhat disappointing overall fuel consumption of just over 40 m.p.g. will be bettered later in the car’s career. However, in the light of the brisk performance, both in respect of acceleration and speed, of the new B.M.C. prodigies, their inability to achieve a regular 50 m.p.g. isn’t as unfortunate as it might seem to the unthinking, particularly when compared with figures obtained from a selection of other small cars by Motor Sport (Table 2).

We remarked editorially last month that the B.M.C. claimed to have, in the new Austin 850 and Morris Mini-Minor 850, cars which out-perform the three best-selling small cars of France, Italy and Germany. Clearly they referred to the Renault Dauphine, Fiat 600 and VW. Taking the latest and most favourable road-test figures for these three extremely successful makes, it is obvious how correct the B.M.C. is in respect of this claim (Table 1). It has been impossible to obtain figures for the most recent Fiat 600 but this cannot be so far ahead of the 1955 model for which we quote performance as to affect the issue. It is apparent that the B.M.C. AD015 design out-performs these European rivals in almost every respect (m.p.g. apart) save that of isolated acceleration bands and speed in second gear when compared to the Volkswagen, and on one acceleration figure by the Renault Dauphine; the VW also has better brakes under light pedal pressures, and all the European small cars give equal or better petrol consumption.

In this country the B.M.C. vehicles undercut so appreciably foreign small cars in respect of price that they must, it would seem, undercut their sales. In Europe prices are more level, with British cars at a reverse disadvantage when import duty is imposed. All in all, however, the genius of Alec Issigonis and his design team looks like being rewarded by record sales of these brilliantly-conceived British baby cars.

Having written this it would be churlish to disregard certain factors which have made five years’ personal driving of a Volkswagen so enjoyable and for this reason, when reviewing the new B.M.C. project last month. I was careful to observe that air-cooling, engine at the back, and low-speed power units have special merits under particular conditions, and I must add the advantages of quality bodywork construction and finish, and a generous relationship of tyre size to car weight. The Volkswagen betters very appreciably the tyre life of the B.M.C. midgets, while an advantage of rear engine location, sometimes overlooked (apart from the obvious merit of good traction over slippery surfaces) is that fumes from an other-than-new power unit, like the noise, are wafted away behind instead of being inhaled by the car’s occupants.

With these provisos, however, I salute again B.M.C. initiative — the performance they provide from little four-seaters of a mere 848 c.c. (against VW’s 1,192 c.c.) is creditable, the space within the body is incredible, and the excellent and ingenious all-independent-suspension provides road-holding that is quite fantastic. All for under £500! — W.B.