On The Road

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The Honda N 360 A 1922 G.N. The Renault 16 A 1910 Hotchkiss

The Editorial Rover 2000TC having been rammed in London by the driver of a Humber taxi, who, as he said he possessed brakes, I can only assume is blind, the emphasis for a week in August was on economy, as a Honda N360 was substituted for the Rover.

The little Honda must surely have been a crib of the British Mini? It has front-wheel-drive, the same oil that lubricates the engine suffices for transmission and drive, it has stowage wells like a Mini’s but smaller, and flimsy, beside the back seat, and it runs on 5.20 x 10 tyres. Incidentally, as Issigonis had to persuade Dunlop to make special 10-in. tyres before he could get his Mini project off the ground, presumably Honda owe a similar debt of gratitude to Dunlop in respect of the N360? The test car was shod with British Dunlop Gold Seal C41s but presumably the original version had Japanese Dunlops.

The little Honda, which is just over an inch shorter than the B.M.C. baby, has some refinements which a Mini lacks, such as wind-up windows, proper recessed door handles instead of pull-cables, plastic door “pulls”, a lidded, but unlockable, cubby-hole, quarter-lights in the doors, a decent driving position, a thief-proof flap over its petrol­-filler and a flick-action lamps’ dipper. But instead of a water-cooled 4-cylinder power unit, it makes do with a 62½ x 57.8 mm. (354.5 c.c.) air-cooled vertical-twin overhead-camshaft engine, which gives 31 (S.A.E.) b.h.p. at 8,500 r.p.m. on a c.r. of 8.6 to 1 and drives the front wheels through exposed outer universal-joints. Not only does this engine have the noted Honda propensity to rev., but it consumes two-star petrol. The front wheels are strut-and-coil-spring suspended and the dead back axle is sprung on long ½-elliptic single-leaf (with rebound-leaf) springs, the back mountings of which protrude untidily beyond the body and display ordinary greaseless anchorage bolts. There is rack-and-pinion steering, with a 15-in. steering wheel and a ratio of 17.4 to 1, giving exactly three turns, lock-to-lock. It is rather dead, but light, steering, with no kick-back and sluggish castor­-return.

The gear-lever protrudes from a facia bracket and is therefore high up, being easier to use than a Mini’s. It has twist-and-push move­ments and it is permissible to crunch in the lower gears as rapidly as you can. As the engine is unburstable it is permissible to let it shriek round, giving maxima, as clearly marked on the speedometer, of 20 m.p.h. in 1st, 30 m.p.h. in 2nd, 50 m.p.h. in 3rd (the handbook says 45), and 70 m.p.h. or a little more in top gear. The interior is nicely finished, there is simple crash-padding on the facia, and the seats are fairly comfortable, while the front-wheel wells do not seriously incom­mode the driver’s feet.

Having said that, Issigonis can be assured that the baby from the Land-of-the-Risen-Sun is not a serious competitor for his Mini, except perhaps on the score of price. It is infernally noisy. It corners quite well with a strong understeer, and insufficient power for the throttle openings to affect this, but hasn’t the precision and tenacity of a Mini on bends and certainly not the latter’s “dodgeaqility”, for the long, single-leaf back springs, from which odd noises emanate at times, allow quite a lot of roll. Moreover, cornering is affected by bumpy roads, over which the ride is not comfortable. Entry to the back seat is by tipping up a front-seat squab, after moving its long side-locking lever, one of which chafed the upholstery.

The boot needs a key to unlock it, the lid, which is of flimsy plastic, being self-supporting on a torsion-wire and lifting to reveal a corru­gated metal floor. The exterior high-gloss finish looks to be of high quality but lots of untidy wires and pipes are met with below the scuttle. The primary instrument is a Nippon Seiki 90-m.p. h. speedo­meter with decimal mileometer, with a fuel gauge to the right of it, below which are two warning lights, one Jabellep CHG, the other PK.B, meaning charge-generator and parking brake. Warning lights for turn-indicators and main beam are provided in the speedometer. A neat r.h. stalk controls turn-indicators and lamps dipping, a press-­button on its tip flashing the lamps. To the right of the steering column, neat press-tumblers operate single-speed wipers and lamps and a rubber “button” the washers. Big toggles work the heater and screen/”room” demisting, the body having extractor vents. There is a single anti-dazzle vizor and good rear-view mirror.

The engine sits up front close to a rather cheap-looking chicken-wire grille and putter-putters quickly into action with a touch of the manual choke. Very occasionally it pops back, but torrential rain didn’t affect it. In full cry it yowls its head of (not literally, of course) and at certain speeds sounds like a two-stroke. There is negative pick-up from low speeds so the gearbox is in continual use, but one has to remember the very modest capacity. Once into its stride it accelerates rather better than a Mini and is willing to propel this 10 cwt. (kerb weight) car at over 70 m.p.h., but the dictates of noise and liveliness of the springing make 50 to 60 m.p.h. a more normal pace except on smooth main roads. The brakes are adequate, the central floor hand­-brake convenient, and there is a horn-push in the steering-wheel hub. The bonnet has to be propped open.

Small open cubby-holes supplement the glove box with its astonish­ingly flimsy lid, the side windows latch outwards for additional ventila­tion, and the back seat can be removed to give extra luggage space­a useful feature of the Honda N360. Fuel feed is by a frenzied electric pump from a 5.7-gallon tank with a hot-water-bottle-like filler bung. The flap over the filler is released by pulling a hidden knob but this necessitates opening the n/s doora bind on a r.h.d. Honda. The range was approximately 290 miles, which is useful, and it is said that in town driving, in spite of frequent gear-changing, some owners are getting 60 m.p.g., which main-road cruising at high revs. pulls down to about 45. I got 44.5 m.p.g. in general usage. The deeply buried wire dip-stick showed no oil consumed in 500 miles. No trouble was experienced and the two spare NGK B-8ES plugs were not needed.

How, then, does this Japanese newcomer rate? It is far more noisy than a Citroën 2 C.V. of similar engine size and nothing like so comfortable, but performs better. It is faster and roomier than a Fiat 500 but perhaps not as economical, costs more, and is, I think, noisier. It is far more noisy than a Mini and has about the same performance as the 850-c.c. model. It costs £32 less, in this country, than a basic Mini and £80 less than a Mini de luxe. So if money is very scarce or you think a Japanese car chic, you might buy a Honda. But other­wise you will presumably go for a British Mini. I happen to have a “thing” about cyclecars, so I quite enjoyed some parts of the Honda test, but it becomes tedious in the extreme on long runs. The Joshiba lamps are good, the spare wheel is mounted horizontally under the bonnet (where it was thief-proof before they deleted the under-facia bonnet release) and so is the small Yuasa NS46 battery. The fan belt takes a tortuous path round its pulleys. The electrics are Nippon Denso Nenso. The big Japanese Stanley rear-lamp clusters look untidy on the back panel. A data plate on the o/s front-wheel well gives servicing information, including the correct torque to apply to the rocker-arm locking screw, and the screw jack is neatly mounted under the bonnet. Apparently 900 N360s and the bigger-engined N600s have been sold in this country since the beginning of the year. But “Buy British” makes sense in this instance, unless you are very impoverished and have a “flat” battery in your deaf-aid.

Because I like cyclecars, and had an air-cooled twin on test, I decided to take up John Hirons on his offer to drive his 1922 G.N. There is quite a number of touring G.N.s still about but absolutely standard ones are rare. Hirons’ is one of the rare ones.

It is a 1922 model which had one owner all its life, a Naval gentle­man who became a recluse, until Hirons acquired it and rebuilt it, in between restoring far heavier metal in the guise of steam traction engines. It is fitting that he should do this, because in contemporary times there were three G.N.s in the family. I had a very pleasant tour of the Oxfordshire byways in the little car, under a blue sky across which white cumulus clouds drifted. The car is blue, too, and you enter, both of you, by a single door on the near side. In these later, more civilised G.N.s, the oil tank with its plunger-pump was deleted from the o/s running-board, and the change-speed lever works in a substantial gate on the right, inside the body, as if the car had a gearbox and not the famous dogs and chains. The flat “radiator” was substituted for the earlier vee-shaped one and the single headlamp gave place to two quite big Miller lamps on the front mudguards.

I took my place behind the big steering wheel and looked out over the top of the single-pane windscreen and the sharply tapering little bonnet. The big 90° i.o.e. vee-twin clattered away quite gently, the bottom-speed dogs were easily engaged, the clutch, a trifle fierce, eased in, and we were away. The gear-lever has a tiny integral polished knob and must not be mistaken for the similar r.h. hand-brake. Moreover, it goes out of 1st and round-the-corner and forward into 2nd, then back for top speed. Reverse, which involves gears, is opposite 1st, you see.

The dashboard carries a Miller lighting panel with separate switches for the various services, a Ripault speedometer, a drip-feed, lit at night, for the total-loss oiling system, a plunger-pump to augment the drip-supply in hilly country, an advance-and-retard knob and precious little else.

After I had discovered how to get my right foot to circumnavigate the brake pedal and thus operate the accelerator, driving this G.N. was simplicity itself. The dogs can be felt in firmly but smoothly, so that there was no feeling that a chain might snap, such as I have experienced on less ably set-up “Chain Gang” transmissions, and on this touring model there is no blood-and-thunder about the progres­sion, just a sense of adequate performance from a simple, effective little machine. Indeed, in the last 2,000 miles Hirons has done nothing to the car apart from greasing it up, and it has given no trouble. As we drove along the sun-drenched lanes, negotiating corners with scarcely more than a flexing of the wrists, it was easy to understand the appeal G.N.s made in the ‘twenties to those brought up on motorcycles. The fascination of a twin-cylinder engine is there without any sense of anxiety, the seat is comfortable, with plenty of leg room, and must have seemed luxurious after a motorcycle saddle. Pick-up is unobtru­sive but impressive. Hirons’ car has the Capac carburetter, which gives around 35 m.p.g., and a gallon of oil lasts about 50 miles.

I was most impressed; unfortunately the G.N.’s owner refused a direct swap for the Honda.

* * *

Last year the Continental Correspondent was, I thought, rather casual about the Renault 16. I can quite understand how this very spacious family car, which is saloon and estate-car in one, rolled and screamed its tyres when fully extended along Continental roads. But I had one over our Late Summer Bank Holiday week-end, and thought what a splendidly contrived and thoroughly worthwhile car this big front-drive Renault is, regarded in the context for which it is intended. It is not every family car which has a high-camshaft, wedge-head, light-alloy 5-bearing engine with detachable wet cylinder liners. . . .

I knew it was Bank Holiday, because this is the time when you have to think before overtakingas big Government posters told me, the first of these I encountered being at the side of a straight, divided dual-carriageway! I see from those statistics which come through so miraculously quickly that casualties were up for the first day of the holiday (conditioning us for an overall 50-m.p.h. speed-limit?).

I do not propose to write much about the Renault 16 on this occasion, because later on there will be more to say about the quicker 16TS, with its 1,565-c.c. engine which gives this comfortable and unique French car a top speed in excess of 100 m.p.h. Suffice it to say that a normal Renault 16 is very quiet (but with some engine roar at 70 m.p.h.), easy to drive, has those now-renowned seats which com­plement the comfort of the ride, and that it possesses more personality than three or four of our most popular cars can claim collectively.

I found it odd to revert to a steering-column gear-change but the l.h. lever now works far more conveniently than before, shifting the cogs smoothly, although I still prefer a floor lever. The hand-brake is low down on the right, where it is out of reach for any purpose save parking, the lockable cubby-hole far down on the left, and it will not take “you know what”.’ . . . The Renault 16 must have one of the most sophisticated heating and ventilation systems of any under-£1,000 car, complete with extractor vents. The controls for this have been revised since I last drove one of these cars over two years ago (see Motor Sport, April 1966). They are multiple but sensible and work with fair precision. The other controls and facia instruments are fully symbolised and conveniently arranged. There is a foot-operated screen-washer and provision for flashing the headlamps with the twist-­action lamps-control on the right of the steering wheel, above which is the shorter turn-indicators stalk. The speedometer has been recalibrated in conjunction with British thinking.

You sit up naturally to drive this big Renault and visibility is excel­lent, with windows where the rear quarters of the body would be on most other cars. Where the fireplace would come in the front parlour there is the neat Philips radio and speaker. Between those superbly comfortable front seats is a big padded arm-rest which lifts to reveal an enormously long, deep stowage well, which can be locked. Stowage space, indeed, is a priority in the Renault 16, the back seat of which can be set in normal, holiday, mother-and-child, rally, travel-bed, bulky­-cargo or shooting-brake positions, as requiredthis was illustrated in the aforementioned full road-test on this remarkable carand the boot of which is cave-like.

The steering-column lock takes both keys, only one of which unlocks it, which can be awkward, and there is a somewhat insensitive hand­choke, while the hand-brake is very inaccessible. I could have done without the “wood decor” on the steering-wheel spoke and the sur­rounds of the instrument panel, and never got quite as much cool air as I wanted unless a window was open. These are very minor criticisms of a car which gets along extremely well for a big load-carrier of only 1,470 c.c.

The torsion-bar, all-round-independent suspension is soft, permit­ting considerable roll, and tyre protest, as “D. S. J.” discovered, hence, presumably, the long grab-bar before the front-seat passenger, but the car clung on well enough under the supple sufficiency of Irish-­made Michelin “X”. It is outstandingly economical (31 m.p.g.) and has such a big fuel capacity that it covered 327 miles on a tankful. No oil was used in 500 miles’ commuting. The handbook is as sensible and practical as the car to which it refers and there are all those endearing R16 features like headlamps adjustable to the load, nave-plates held by a single stud, a different wheelbase each side, the spare wheel and tyre-changing equipment under the bonnet, and so on. The rack-and-pinion steering is on the heavy side, with formidable castor-return; the disc/drum brakes spongy but powerful when trodden on hard. Substantial wrap-round bumpers, side turn­-indicator repeaters, very convenient door arm-rests-cum-“pulls”, and crash padding of the interior, etc., are other useful adjuncts in this car of most unusual appearance, which even has a pipe-rack and, more practically, a lockable bonnet .

Altogether I am an enthusiast for this luxuriously appointed and well-finished Régie Renault product, which is a useful adjunct to any country house. It sells here for £998 in Grand Luxe form, which is around £400 less expensive than some cars which can be termed luxury-family models and which do not carry the burden of import duties.

In spite of the advertised carnage, I ventured out in the Renault 16 on the middle day of the Bank Holiday, going to Wootton Bassett to see G. C. Plaister’s rare Edwardian Hotchkiss, which earlier this year won a First Class Award in the V.S.C.C. Edwardian and Light Car Rally. Before the First World War, and after it, the Hotchkiss was one of France’s most esteemed cars. In 1907, when the Rolls­-Royce Silver Ghost had stirred English perfectionists, a Hotchkiss with a 50-h.p. 6-cylinder engine beneath its barrel-shaped bonnet had completed a 20,000-mile publicity run. It was, in any case, a car which hardly required this endorsement of its quality. Today, however, Hotchkiss cars of any era are rarities and those of Edwardian antiquity scarce indeed. So I was interested to learn more about the 4-cylinder specimen now owned by Mr. Plaister.

Mr. Plaister is the person who surprised us at Castle Combe some years ago by producing and racing an immaculate and exceedingly interesting aluminium-bodied 1921 Horstmann light car of thoroughly sporting demeanour, with a Coventry-Simplex engine.

This vintage light car, its polished replica bodywork gleaming, occupies a garage with the Hotchkiss I had journeyed to see. They are both about the same length, remembering that the Horstmann has a long pointed tail. The Hotchkiss is dated 1910 and, unless I am mistaken, is the 16/20-h.p. model. The 3.6-litre engine is entirely conventional, with pump cooling, a carburetter mounted low down on the o/s feeding the manifolding through a plain brass pipe, and the exhaust gases leaving from the rear of the block on the n/s. Embossed on the cylinder block is the engine’s type-letter and a footboard plate confirms that this is a Type T Series 3 Hotchkiss, another plate saying that it was supplied by the London & Parisienne Motor Co. of Davies Street, W.

The very substantial chassis is sprung on ¾-elliptic rear springs and ½-elliptic front springs, the transmission incorporates a plate clutch, 4-speed and reverse gearbox with side lever working in a gate (it moves across at an angle into reverse, which position is shut off by a catch), and a foot-operated transmission brake, and it runs on 875 x 105 tyres supplied in recent days by the good Dunlop Company.

The car was owned at one time by Capt. Thomas Clutterbuck, R.N., of Micklefield Hall, near Rickmansworth, who may well have been the original owner. He is thought to have used the Hotchkiss for trials or some form of competition work until 1931, when it was converted into an estate lorry. It has since passed through a number of hands, including those of car-coper Bendall, and now carries two bucket seats backed by a bolster tank, with a long dickey behind that. This gives the car a most sporting appearance. It has gas headlamps without innards and Castle carriage-type sidelamps. The chassis no. is T1942 and the engine no. 1972, which may imply that a 1911 engine is installed.

Typical of England, this holiday Sunday was beset with heavy rain­storms. However, these had cleared by the time I had finished admiring the Hotchkiss, so Mr. Plaister suggested a run. Soon, there­fore, I had the pleasure of driving a truly-refined Edwardian motor car along the empty roads of Wiltshire in fitful sunshine with grey clouds scudding across a deep blue sky. You sit high, every road wheel visible. On the dash there are no instruments to claim your attention, only triple drip-feeds and adjacent plunger-pumps, for oiling the crank­case, back axle and the magneto-drive side of the timing gears. Literally you look down on the typical barrel-shaped, multi-louvred bonnet, beneath which the engine thrums away like a well-behaved sewing-machine. The keynote of this 1910 Hotchkiss is refinement, and I was able to visualise the splendour of the big 6-cylinder Edwardians of this make. The gearbox is notably quiet, the gears go in smoothly, the brakes are powerful and unprotesting, and corners can be swung round with the excellent balance possessed by the better cars of this era. The ride is outstandingly comfortable, nor is the car a sluggard, for it goes along at some 40 to 45 m.p.h. with no apparent effort.

Fun that the Horstmann stable companion is, it is easy, after driving the bigger car, to understand why those who, prior to 1914, had owned cars similar to this Hotchkiss could not stomach the small-car rash which broke out after the Armistice. Several people have made offers for this rare Edwardian but Mr. Plaisterwho is rebuilding a Type 51a Bugatti to original specificationhas decided not to sell.W. B.