The Editor Drives the Smallest Sports Car and the Latest Luxury Car Made by The B.M.C.
Impressions of the M.G. Midget Mk. II and Vanden Plas Princess 4-litre R.
During the wonderful summer weather we enjoyed during the later part of August and beginning of September, an appropriate car came along for test, in the form of the M.G. Midget Mk. II, which B.M.C. call a convertible since it was endowed with wind-up glass windows earlier this year.
What can I say about this ever-popular little car? It has no particular individuality, is inferior to a Mini in ride and roadholding, and therefore under certain circumstances less rapid on a journey, and is out-performed by the “hotter” models of the Mini-Cooper range, as the table illustrates.
Yet the demand for such a sports model is unabated—for many days I hardly saw the car, because my eldest daughter resolutely refused to be parted from it.
The M.G. Midget is essentially a car for the younger generation. Getting in and out necessitates some rather jack-knife contortions for the old but as so many women wear trousers these days. this is probably no deterrent, although now that girls favour skintight slacks (and I’m not complaining) there would seem to be some danger of a split.
The M.G. makes sports-car sounds, to which the engine, gearbox and back axle all contribute, and the somewhat hard suspension is in keeping. The steering is decently responsive (2½-turns, lock-to-lock) and light, but the wheel has an unpleasantly thick rim. Visibility is good, even with the hood erect, for the rear quarters have transparent panels, the re-planned dashboard, in black-matt finish with angled tachometer and speedometer, has unlabelled flick-switches and a knob which turns On a very effective heater unless it is pulled out. The wipers fail to wipe the extreme r.h. corner of the screen, which is a bad lapse in a “Safety last” product!
The gear-change is harsh, and 1st gear sometimes baulks, but the central lever is well placed: the band-brake lever nestles close to the passenger’s thigh.
The seats cannot really be a cause of complaint, because they possess generous padding, but the squabs are mean and therefore unshaped to the human form. Behind the seats there is the usual shelf masquerading as a seat, useful to those who prefer not to deposit their luggage on the exposed spare wheel which occupies the floor of the lockable boot. Minor irritations were a flexing bonnet panel and some squeaking from the region of the rear suspension, which is now ½-elliptic, the former ¼-elliptic springs which formed a nostalgic link with the early light-car movement having been abandoned, to the enhancement of road-holding on fast earners.
This little M.G. gets along well enough, as the table shows. The engine tended to run-on if fed .98-octane fuel. It returned 35.6 m.p.g. of the 100+-octane stuff on a combination of office-going and open-road driving, and consumed 1½-pints of oil in 675 miles. Oil pressure varies from 40-60 lb./sq. in. and water temperature is normally 175°F., rising to 190°F. in London traffic on a hot day. There is a r.h. stalk, slightly fumbly, for the turn-indicators. The Lockheed brakes, 81 in. discs at the front, are excellent.
The 1,098-c.c. engine has twin S.U. HS2 carburetters and an 8.9-to-1 c.r. It develops 59 (net) b.h.p. at -5,750 r.p.m. Performance in comparison with the Mini range can be expressed as :—
Although the bigger Mini-Coopers Will see off the M.G. sports car, I predict that there Will continue to be a firm demand for such an Open 2-seater amongst sons and daughters, nephews arid nieces, if not by wives and mistresses.
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Princess 4-litre R
“The Magic of a Name.”
Immediately after returning the M.G. I was able to drive away in the much-publicised Vanden Plas Princess 4-litre R, which has made history by being the first car, other than a Rolls-Royce, to be powered with an R.-R. engine. Thus, although I haven’t driven a modern Rolls-Royce, I found myself behind an engine of this make, albeit rather an old-fashioned engine…
The impressive-looking but inaccessible engine used is the 7-bearing, light-alloy, 450-lb., 6-cylinder 95.2 x 91.4-mm. (3,909 c.c.) FB60, which was developed from one of Rolls Royce’s industrial range. It has an inlet-over-exhaust head, which we have been told by both Rover and Rolls-Royce themselves in recent times is now something of a back number, and on a modest cr. of 7.8 to 1 develops 175 (gross) b.h.p. at 4,860 r.p.m. and 218 lb/ft. torque at 3,000 r.p.m., fed by twin S.U. carburetters, As this long-awaited (and once denied) liaison between B.M.C. and R.-R. has caused considerable excitement, it is the bonnet of the Vanden Plas which interested parties cluster round, eager to see the legendary power unit. It nestles deep down in the car, its plugs difficult to See or remove, but two dip-sticks nicely to hand, one for the sump, the other for the Borg-Warner Model-8 automatic gearbox to which it is mated (toe engine-oil dipstick becomes almost too hot to handle). Items which catch the eye at the front of the engine are the multiple belt-drives, dual belts presumably being required even for the dynamo, as this drives the hydraulic pump for the power steering. The alloy castings, what you can glimpse of them, are beautiful to behold, but the oil filler is covered by a small plastic cap, the “R.-R.” emblem ahead of it seems to have been stuck on as an afterthought, and the paint had run into a big blob on the upper face of the Lucas -dynamo. The heavy bonnet is self-propping but the prop would not always release immediately without assistance.
The Vanden Plas itself, formerly with 3-litre B.M.C. engine, is a big, comfortable car, trimmed and equipped in the fashion of the limousine-age, one of these cars used to serve my Managing Director very well, before he graduated to a Daimler Majestic Major.
The aspect that spoils it is the steering. ‘This is controlled, through a large-diamerer but low-set wheel, by “Hydrosteer” cam-and-peg power mechanism. This apparently applies assistance only when a comparatively high breakout force is built up at the steering wheel, as a result of which the feel fluctuates between heavy and light at low speeds, giving a horribly “notchy” and dead action, causing the driver to work continually, making minor corrections. The gearing is quite high, 2¾-turns, lock-to lock, of which about 1/8 is free play. But the aforesaid unpleasant action at low speeds and the huge wheel make it feel like much lower-geared steering. This, and a tendency for the car to wander slightly on its Dunlop RSs tyres of 7.50 x 13 section, decided me against undertaking a one-day run of 330 miles, and instead the car was used for shorter journeys and a run to London and back.
For this sort of work it is well suited. The steering is free from all but mild reaction and light for parking, but the handling characteristics are really rather horrid.
The engine is more audible when idling than its illustrious initials would suggest, especially while the hydraulic tappets are slack and can be heard clicking, but at cruising speeds it is pleasantly quiet, aided by much sound-deadening material, which the light-alloy construction perhaps made necessary. Choke has to be used for a mile or so from a cold start, or the engine will stall suddenly, and when hot the gauge showed almost zero oil pressure, although at speed this rises to 60 lb./sq. in. At idling speeds when hot it is very rough, rocking the entire car and vibrating the edges of the door pockets—just like a lorry engine./ Temperature normally remains at “N.”
The Borg-Warner gearbox functions with commendable smoothness and is well suited to the new power unit. Only when obtaining maximum acceleration under kick-down is jerk promoted. ‘There is little noticeable difference between the D1 and D2 settings; maxima of 50 and 76 m.p.h. are available in the Low and Intermediate gears, respectively. The selector quadrant is not illuminated, hut can be faintly inspected at night in reflected light when full facia lighting is in use. The lever works very heavily, needing so much force that it tends to jump one more notch than intended; it was better to tap the lever than move it with finger and thumb.
That this 4-litre R.-R.-powered Vanden Plas provides very adequate performance is obvious from the following acceleration times, which are allied to a top speed of 110 m.p.h.
Some of these times are very slightly inferior to those claimed in Vanden Plus’ Press blurb, possibly because the speedometer is somewhat optimistic.
On the road the car has a very good level ride, the old-fashioned rear suspension scarcely evident, commendable silence except for an irritating squeak from the n/s. of the facia, some mechanical “chalks” as toe cogs change themselves, and servo Lockheed disc/drum brakes which are entirely adequate if a little unpredictable, as they responded to “pumping” and the back wheels locked under heavy braking, proving the Lockheed valve a gimmick. The accelerator action was sticky and hesitant at small openings, either due to lack of lubricant or poor linkage. Over a distance of 650 miles consumption of 98-octane petrol averaged 18.1 m.p.g. and the sump required a pint of oil. There is a lockable flap over the n/s. fuel filler. The normal range, from full tank to gauge showing empty, was 27o miles.
The Vanden Plas body is luxurious but lacks some of the amenities other manufacturers manage to provide in £2,000 cars. For instance, there are old-style internal door handles, going forward to open the doors, instead of sill-locks, nor do the doors dose in the quality manner. The deep expanse of glossy burr-walnut facia is superimposed on the instrument panel, so that the dials are deeply recessed and the flick-switches consequently that much more difficult thumb down. And there are only two dials, the 140-mph. speedometer being matched by a combined ammeter, fuel gauge, temperature and oil-pressure indicator. The clear white figures on black .backgrounds are “in the tradition,” however, likewise the lining along the body waistline/ The turn-indicators arc controlled by that Mini-type r.h. stalk with its too-bright bulb at the tip. This stalk also acts as a lamps-flasher. The doors have weak “keeps.”
The seats, separate in front, each with its own central arm-rest, are deep and firm and comfortable, and on opening the doors the pleasing scent of good leather exudes. The front-seat .squabs are adjustable by turning tiny crank-handles between one’s legs, and the Leveroll seats adjust easily fore-and-aft, at the expense of rear compartment leg-room when set fully back. The transmission tunnel, topped by a Herald-like oddments’ tray, obstructs the front compartment, and a pronounced prop.-shaft tunnel divides the rear compartment floor, but six people can be carried, nevertheless, the brake lever being on the right.
There are the usual polished walnut door fillets, the doors are upholstered in vinyl-coated fabric, and aircraft-type swivelling fresh-air inlets are fitted each end of the facia. A half-horn-ring sounds a blatant hooter and the usual warning lamps are supplemented by servo and oil-filter lights.
Stowage is generous, with a very deep lipped under-facia shelf, bisected by the central controls and ash-tray panel, the usual back shelf, pockets in all the doors below the arm-rests-cum-pulls, and a shallow but high, lockable cubby-hole, with .”magnetic catch.” The kickable boot is of wide but shallow dimensions, the battery in its upholstered box takes up some of the space, but the spare wheel has its own compartment beneath. That the car is old-fashioned is evidenced by so points needing grease every 3,000 miles.
There are good carpets, two courtesy-action interior lights for the rear compartment, a Central arm-rest for the wide back seat, and the turn-indicators are automatically reduced in intensity when the lamps are in use, to reduce night dazzle. Lucas foglamps are a standard fitting.
Seven toggle switches, four of which are on the right of the facia, rather fumbly in the dark, look after the minor controls, including screen-wash, 2-speed wipers and one or both foglamps. There is a cigar-lighter, coat-hooks, map-light, a clock, vanity mirror in the n/s. visor, and openable rear window vents, which, however, have no toggle to hold them open. The twin knobs from previous big Austin and Wolseley cars control the heater/ventilatory settings, white “pips” showing their positions in daylight, which are lit internally after dark—a neat touch.
Folding tables, heavily veneered, with plated cup-holders, are found on the backs of the front-seat squabs, and the cubby-hole lid has similar picnic amenities. Those who crave more extensive equipment can order from among the extras ” Normalair ” air conditioning, electrically-heated rear window; whitewall tyres, laminated screen, electrically-raised radio aerial, radio, seat-belts, spring-back mirrors and “Selectaride” rear shock-absorbers.
In normal-equipment form this new Vanden Plas 4-litre R costs under £2,000 (actually £1,994 6s. 3d. inclusive of p.t.). It thus enters the value-for-money class of which Jaguar and Rover have long had a monopoly. I think they do it that much better than Vanden Plas, but, of course, they do not have Rolls-Royce engines. With a Vanden Plas it would seem a case of ordering a replacement car after an appreciable mileage, instead of a replacement engine! But I wish it had nicer steering…—W. B.