After a quiet year during which few new cars were introduced the onset of the four major Motor Shows at Frankfurt, Paris, London and Turin saw the introduction of a mass of new cars and this review is an attempt to catalogue as many of the new models as possible. First of all the Assistant Editor was despatched to Frankfurt to examine and drive the various new cars and on his return he was set to work to catch up with the various new English cars which will have been released by October 1st. Naturally, several British cars have been kept back for the London Show and these we cannot deal with.
Interest at Frankfurt was almost equally spread between the Mercedes 600, the Wankel-engined N.S.U. and the Porsche 901 with the Glas 1300GT looking to be a promising newcomer. The Editor has been boldly stating recently that the Mercedes is "The best car in the World" and as if to live up to his praise they have built a very large and magnificent car which could be a definite challenge to Rolls-Royce's claim as the best in the World. The degree of automatic operation found in the Mercedes 600 is seldom seen in other cars unless it be in the most expensive American cars, but even they can have little of the refinement of the 600. I was not allowed to drive the 600 as it is an expensive car to entrust to the hands of journalists but we did take several stints in the passenger seats of both the saloon and the limousine versions.
The rear seat of the saloon is one of the most comfortable I have ever sat in for it seemts to conform easily to the body shape while separate headrests are standard fittings in the rear. Press buttons on the doors tilt the whole of the rear seat from almost upright to practically reclining while other buttons raise or lower the windows. Curtains can be drawn round the rear compartment and in the vast limousine the glass division is raised and lowered by another button. The driver has control over all the windows with a battery of buttons and he can also raise or lower the two separate front seats, and open the sunshine roof from the driving seat. All this is done hydraulically while all the doors, the boot and the fuel filler can be locked by vacuum operation when the driver's door is locked. The doors need not be slammed as the hydraulic pressure closes them when they are pushed lightly to.
The 90° V8 engine with single overhead camshafts for each bank and a capacity of 6,329 c.c. gives 300 b.h.p. (gross) at 4,100 r.p.m. with Bosch fuel injection and one does not need much imagination to realise the potential of this engine in a less ponderous vehicle. Even with the 48 cwt. of the Saloon and 51 cwt. of the limousine the engine manages to produce quite reasonable performance. The Daimler-Benz automatic transmission gives the driver the opportunity to select his own gears and speeds of 31, 50, 80 and 127 are claimed in the gears with a 0-100 m.p.h. time of 26 sec. Steering is power assisted with the column adjustable for length, the suspension is the self-levelling air suspension type similar to the 300SE with shock-absorbers adjustable from the facia, air assisted Dunlop-ATE disc brakes all round, electronically controlled heating and ventilation, limited slip differential and in the words of the Mercedes brochure "....everything which could possibly contribute to the well being and comfort of driver and passengers...."
With this I would not argue for on the road I found it to have a particularly smooth ride over all surfaces, excellent braking, ample acceleration and remarkably good cornering properties although naturally some roll is evident and if pressed really hard the 900-15 in. tyres assume some odd shapes. It will probably cost a great deal of money in Britain but for those who must have the best it will provide a strong pull away from the Rolls-Royce and Bentley models.
N.S.U. seem to have beaten all the problems connected with the Wankel engine for they have now announced their first production model, the N.S.U. Spider. The car itself must be counted as something of a disappointment for it is little more than a Sport Prinz with the top cut off but it would be a little much to ask for N.S.U. to expend all their resources on a new car as well as a new engine and one must assume that this first venture is something of an experiment to see how the engine performs under everyday conditions.
They claim that the capacity is 500 c.c. and that power output is 64 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m., quite a formidable power/capacity ratio, but in Germany where cars are still taxed on engine size the authorities are trying to call it a 1,500 c.c. unit to help swell their coffers a little more. The engine is mated to a new 4-speed gearbox but otherwise the car follows the design of the Sport Prinz except for disc brakes on the front wheels. Production does not start until next year and I was unable to lay my hands on one to drive or even sit in at any price, although N.S.U. say that the Press will be invited to test them before the year is out. They claim a top speed of 95 m.p.h. and petrol consumption of 35 m.p.g. No prices are yet available.
Just to show that they have not yet put all their eggs in one basket N.S.U. also introduced the Prinz 1000 model at Frankfurt which is basically similar to the Prinz 4 in outward design but has 8 1/4 in. more wheelbase and trailing arm rear suspension instead of swing axles as used on the Prinz 4. Additionally the twin-cylinder engine is replaced by an entirely new transverse air-cooled 4-cylinder unit with a single overhead camshaft driven by a double roller chain which gives 51 b.h.p. (S.A.E.) at 5,000 r.p.m. The car is not a great deal heavier than the Prinz 4 and performance should be quite brisk but once again I was unable to find out for myself as production does not start until next spring and no cars are available, yet.
Yet another car which escaped my hands was the Porsche 901. The car on the stand at Frankfurt was "The only one we've got" or words to that effect and as they have no intention of making any for at least a year one wonders why they did not wait until the next Frankfurt Show to introduce it, unless it was to forestall the more sensationally minded Continental newspapers. However, its specification is interesting for it uses an intriguing new fiat-six air-cooled engine of 2-litres capacity with single overhead chain-driven camshafts for each bank which gives 130 b.h.p. (D.I.N.) at 6,200 r.p.m. The car is not a full 4-seater but the two occasional rear seats should remain comfortable for a little longer than the usual "legless dwarf" variety.
The car itself remains unmistakably a Porsche in appearance except for its longer wheelbase and different front and rear end styling. The new engine which uses an eight main bearing crankshaft and is, of course, the first Porsche to eschew gear-driven camshafts is mated to an all-new 5-speed gearbox/final drive unit. The front suspension is similar to the McPherson principle except that torsion bars are used as the springing medium while the rear suspension retains trailing arms and transverse torsion bars. Disc brakes of Porsche/A.T.E. construction are fitted on all wheels. Porsche claim a top speed of 120 m.p.h. and a standing start -mile in 16.4 sec. No prices have been announced but it is likely to cost around £2,000 in Germany.
Several modifications have been made to the current Porsche range and the type is now designated the 356C. The 6o b.h.p. model is dropped leaving the 1600C which has 75 b.h.p. with improved torque and the 1600SC which has 95 b.h.p. at 5,800 r.p.m against 90 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m. of the old Super 90 model. Disc brakes are now standard equipment on all wheels. I was able to drive one of the latest models and it was soon apparent that Porsche engineers read magazine road-test reports for the heater knob has been replaced by a lever and the awkwardly placed light switch has been moved so that the driver does not have to reach through the steering wheel to operate it. Some suspension modifications have been made including a stiffer roll bar and softer rear springs but my test drive was too short to detect any noticeable changes.
Another German car praised by the Editor was the B.M.W. 1500. Two new versions were shown at Frankfurt, the 1800 and 1800 T.I., the capacity having been increased to 1,773 c.c. The 1800 gives 90 b.h.p. on a single Solex carburetter and the T.I. gives 110 b.h.p. on two Solex carburetters. A more powerful competition model is also available, having a 5-speed gearbox. Otherwise the new models differ very little from the normal 1500 having identical bodywork and trim. On the road the 1800 proved to be very lively with a superb gearbox, good, power-assisted front disc/rear drum brakes, and uncomplicated handling. The interior is nicely thought out and when the car arrives in quantity on British shores it should have a good reception.
The products of the Opel factory are not normally of interest to British motorists as they are not sold here but I took the opportunity to try the Kadett model as it is mechanically and bodily similar to the new Vauxhall Viva which is dealt with elsewhere in this issue. The instrumentation differs from the Vauxhall and the gear lever is a long rubbery device unlike the remote control of the Viva. The Kadett is likeable in a tinny sort of way; the engine is noisy but lively, there is a good deal of rattle from the body, the steering is fabulously light and the gearbox has almost unbeatable synchromesh. It handles reasonably well but axle hop is easily provoked. A coupé version with 54 b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m. was introduced at Frankfurt.
Having previously spent a weekend with a Ford Taunus 12M, I did not share the Editor's enthusiasm for this car, feeling at the time that mechanical novelties like V-4 engines and front-wheel-drive did not necessarily provide better results over less ambitious conventional cars, like (dare I say it) the Cortina. At Frankfurt I tried the latest versions, the 12M TS and the 12M coupé and found that my opinion had not changed. Both models have the engine enlarged to 1,498 c.c. and the power raised to 50 b.h.p. at 4,500 r.p.m. Like so many other pseudo coupés the 12M version is merely the normal saloon with a cut down roof, giving less headroom at the rear in return for a minute increase in performance. The greater performance has tended to increase the front wheel drive understeer tendency, whilst handling is undistinguished in any case, the inside front wheel lifting under hard cornering. The front bench seat of the TS cannot be slid back far enough to give a good driving position for anyone over medium height and the column gear change is an average example of its type.
Now under the ownership of Daimler-Benz the Auto-Union factory is gradually beginning to change the character of its range although retaining the familiar two-stroke, 3-cylinder engines. The two newest models are the D.K.W. F.12 and the F.102. The F.12 is an addition to the range and is essentially a larger version of the Junior model but the F. 102replaces the old Auto-Union 1000 series and is a very conventional looking car with a 69 b.h.p., 1,175 c.c. version of the two-stroke engine. This model has disc brakes on the front wheels and joins the growing ranks of German cars like Mercedes, Opel and Porsche which use Dunlop discs made under licence by the Alfred Teves Company in Germany. I was able to drive the new convertible version of the F.12 and although this is not a very handsome car it certainly possesses healthy performance and is claimed to reach 80 m.p.h. The column gear lever still requires a long throw between gears with first and third almost vertical above the steering wheel. The steering is light and the seat comfort and adjustment good. The F.102 has an improved gear lever layout over the F.12 with a very good action for a column layout. It will be interesting to see how the F.102 fares against the four-stroke cars in its class. The British concessionaires recently cut over £100 from the prices of some D.K.W. models to make them more competitive.
Another interesting car I was able to try at Frankfurt was the Neckar-Fiat 1500TS. This car is basically a normal Fiat 1500 which is sent to the Italian Siata works to have the engine modified to give 80 (DIN) b.h.p. at 6,200 r.p.m. and various other modifications made such as the conversion of the gear change from column to remote control floor lever and the fitting of a handsome alloy steering wheel. The complete car is then sent to the Neckar works at Heilbronn (which used to be a branch of N.S.U. but is now separate) who then export it all over the world, even back to Italy. The car has similar characteristics to the normal 1500 with excellent acceleration, rather early but controllable rear end breakaway, but the gear lever tended to "hang up" and often refused to engage. Obviously this feature needs more development.
Something of an unknown quantity are the latest models from the Glas Company. This firm which made its name with the tiny Goggomobil faded away when the need for really small cars died out but this year are making a serious bid for the medium size saloon and G.T. market with the Glas 5500 and 1300GT models. Although of fairly conventional specification the cars have attractively styled coachwork by Pietro Frua of Turin and with single overhead camshaft engines giving 70 b.h.p. for the 1500 and 75 b.h.p. for the 1300GT should be capable of development. Unfortunately no demonstration models were available at Frankfurt and production is not expected to commence for some time so I was not able to try the cars at all.
Finally, of the German producers we come to Volkswagen, which is of course by far the largest. At a conference given for the Press at the Frankfurt Show, Professor Nordhoff was baited by several journalists about various dated aspects of the "beetl " but always he was able to fall back on the argument that over six million people cannot be wrong. In fact VW are now well on their way to seven million cars, producing at the rate of 5,100 a day and employing 90,000 people in factories all over the world. The only significant modification at Frankfurt concerned the 1500 model which is now available in 1500S form with twin Solex carburetters giving 66 b.h.p. (SAE) at 4,800 r.p.m. against the 54 b.h.p. of the normal model.