Matters of Moment, October 1980

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NEW MODELS

“He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils” — Francis Bacon, 1561-1626.

At this month’s Birmingham Motor Show, that great replacement for London’s Earls Court Motor Exhibition of yore, which will be open from October 17th to 26th, there will be many new models and other interesting innovations to bring the crowds, no doubt of vast proportions, to the National Exhibition Centre on the outskirts of the great City of Birmingham. The Motor Show apart, there is to be another unleashing of cars of all kinds, including Formula One machine, in the hands of seven top racing drivers, over the Birmingham street-circuit, a unique event sponsored by Lucas in collaboration with Goodyear, Shell, Leyland Vehicles, British Leyland Cars, the SMM & T, and Lloyds & Scottish Finance. This “Lucas Kings of the Streets” spectacle will commence with a parade of Bugattis and will very likely attract uneven bigger crowd of been onlookers than the 122,000 or more who were said to have come to watch in 1978. It is a free show — no paying for admission — and the date is October 12th.

Reverting to the new models that will be on display inside the NEC Motor Show Hall, three very important ones are a new Rolls-Royce, the new Ford Escort, and the long and expectantly-awaited British Leyland Mini Metro. To take these in the order in which we have been allowed to sample them on the road, the Rolls-Royce, the name of which had to remain a well-guarded secret until the Paris Salon opened its doors to the Press on October 1st, is in our view more a revised Silver Shadow II than a completely new model; although the new price asked for it may well make this seem surprising! A description and driving impressions of the latest car from Crewe will be found on page 1484. The advent of a revised Rolls-Royce is always an event of much glamour and considerable news-value. So, having driven up to the factory to try the newest edition of “The Best Car in the World,” in our “Thrifty Executive’s Silver Shadow” (i.e., a Rover 3500 which, in common with the R-R, has a light-alloy V8 engine with push-rod valve gear, a Borg-Warner automatic gearbox, self-levelling suspension and even Triplex XXX safety-glass) we began to think on the may home of past R-R new-model releases.

The advent of the New Phantom in 1925 was a notable step-forward in Royce technology, because it was the first new model for the famous British Company since the side-valve 40/50, which had then been in production for the almost record long-run of 19 years*. The New Phantom had overhead valves in what was very much the former chassis, but endowed with the famous R-R mechanical-servo four-wheel-brakes that had hung fire before being provided freely for the Ghost-type cars. First technical descriptions of the new Rolls-Royce broke in May 1925 and the Company advertisement announcements said simply that Rolls-Royce were able to offer the New Phantom for delivery to their clients.

In fact, as Anthony Bird admits in the splendid standard reference book on R-R cars, this PI “was not so much a new car as a re-engined version of the old one”. Which is about as much as might now be said of the change from Silver Shadow to 1980/81 Silver Spirit. Yet the excitement with which the new 7.6-litre o.h.v. Roy. (larger by 260 c.c. than its illustrious predecessor) aroused in 1925 was considerable.

Just as Royce had felt his way to above-head valves for his big car with an engine first developed for his R-R Twenty, so the great mechanic waited four years before modifying the chassis of the PI to better suit the car’s increased performance over that of a Ghost. The New Phantom Rolls-Royce was then new no longer, so it became the PI; the introduction of the Phantom II was occasion for enthusiasm and excitement as before. (After Mr. Sidgreaves had denied in August rumours of a new model!) The story broke in September 1929, with a four-page description in The Autocar and Company advertisements stating in the expected dignified manner that another new Rolls-Royce model had made its debut.

Much more exciting should have been the Rolls-Royce Phantom III announced in 1935, because with it a 7.3-litre V12 hydraulic-tappet engine and i.f.s, this really was a new model. Perhaps the proximity of another war and the fact that the engine wasn’t endowed with overhead-camshafts, so that one couldn’t quite feel one was motoring behind a road-version of the famous R-R Schneider Trophy racing aero-engine, made this announcement seem slightly less of an event than had been the respective births of the PI and the PII.

Today’s Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit is far less of a new car than was P3 and P2, although it typifies the steady engineering advance which has for so long been a hallmark of the Derby/Crewe products. But times change and unless a pleasant surprise awaits us, you are unlikely to find a dignified R-R advertisement in our pages, announcing the new R-R model Silver Spirit. Possibly because Rolls-Royce are shy of being one of the few leading motor-manufacturers who eschew all forms of competition motoring. . .Their engineering research continues, of course. At the time of our visit to Crewe turbocharging was being investigated and a Buick Riveria Turbo stood outside the Engineering Department. 

However, to have a new Rolls-Royce and a new Ford announced at the same time is quite something! Of course, one cannot expect the same impact from the Erika-Escort Ford as the Model-A Ford made in 1927, with traffic coming to a standstill in New York, the police having to be called out, and showrooms windows broken as vast crowds rushed to catch a first glimpse of this New Ford. For Model-A was the replacement for the sole Ford private-car, the immortal Model-T to be made over the previous 18 years and the Dearborn plant had been actually closed down to re-tool for it. The New Escort has, on the other hand, to take its rightful place beside those other already firmly-established great Ford models, Fiesta, Cortina, and the Granada, cars that make it clear why Ford-of-Britain has for so long topped the UK sales-race. We have long held the view that Ford understands the needs of car-owners as well as anyone and what the term “transport’. means better than most: anyone at the Motor Show who is undecided as to what make to purchase will in our opinion not go far wrong with a Ford. . .

Moreover, the 1980 Ford Escort is completely new — front-drive, and an engine with alloy-block, hemi-heads, overhead-camshaft, hydraulic tappets (except for the 1,100 model), all-round independent suspension, etc. You can read a description of it on page 1496. The official announcement came on the day the new cars were in the Dealers’ showrooms — we hope we shall be able to publish a full road-test report in the very near future.

So anxious were Leyland Cars to get the Mini Metro properly introduced that the Press and the Media were shown it, and allowed to drive it briefly, some one-and-a-half months before its official release date, a dreadful temptation for unprincipled journalists and photographers to break the BL embargo. As a conscientious journal MOTOR SPORT cannot tell you anything about this little car, which is of such enormous importance to BL and to this country, until next month. Nor did the Editor attend the London preview of the Mini Metro, having been present when the Morris Mini Minor was announced in 1959, he remembers all too clearly and with how much pleasure the incredible technical breakthrough represented by Alec Issigonis’s tiny package, the subsequent hard work involved in telling his readers what this entirely new baby-car was all about, and the sense of pride that this first transverse-engined front-drive car with its gears in its sump, devoid of cart-springs, and running on special 10″ Dunlop tyres, had been designed and made in Britain. (That Alec Issigonis was later knighted was entirely appropriate). We sensed that the preview of the Mini Metro might be an anti-climax just as we sense that in the New Escort Ford have another winner. But we hope we are wrong and we intend to tell you, one way or the other, in the November MOTOR SPORT.

• THE FIGHT IS STILL ON

There has been a development in the much-criticised proposal by the Conservative Transport Minister to tax all private cars, irrespective of whether these are on the public road or stationary in their private parking places — the later announcement that pre-1940 cars may be exempted from tax. We contacted the Tax Department and Swansea confirmed that, if implemented, this would mean tax-free use of pre-1940 cars on the road, as well as exemption from the ill-conceived idea of taxing them while they are unused. Do not be misled by this Utopian-sounding proposal.

The tea-consuming bureaucrats of Whitehall and Wales have made promises before, which have been broken! Politicians have a nasty way of crushing optimism, once a row has died down or the votes have been won. So do not accept lightly this sop to pre-war car enthusiasts. It could mean restricted use of such cars, fresh legislation, perhaps EEC-based, being applied to them, and very possibly a later possessions-tax levied on them to adjust for the free useage of the road allocated to them. Moreover, this seeming let-out by Norman Fowler will benefit only one section of car-owners; it would do nothing for those who, not necessarily, wealthy, are restoring pre-war cars (and therefore not using them on the road), and that includes all manner of Classics and cars in other categories, the Dealers with cars in their showrooms, the Museums and so on. Protest about any change in car-tax methods to your MP, TODAY. More over, if pre-war car are tax-exempted, this will encourage those devoid of insurance and/or DoE test-certificates to sneak onto the road; or else the legislation and checking to obviate this may well cost more then continuing with the existing system.

By the way, we have been conned again; instead of the four-day licences promised from Swansea, the minimum period for a licence has just been raised from four to six months.

Volvos for 1981

A CERTAIN amount of restyling has taken place right across the Volvo range, but most apparent in the well-known 200 series cars. The aim has been to achieve a “more elegant and classical appearance” and has been implemented by a fresh approach to the styling of the front and rear bumpers, lights and grilles, and different treatment around the glass area. The effect is to make the car shorter and lighter, and rather more sleek, although still very much a Volvo. Inside, the instrument panel has been completely re-designed, and the “oddments” storage space has been increased. The 340 range has been expanded for 1981 to encompass eight versions. Improvements include new shock absorbers, better insulation, and a higher torque figure at lower r.p.m. Prices for these “more British than British” cars start at £6,657 for the 200 series and £4,397 for the smaller 340 models.

P.H.J.W.

OBITUARY Alfred Neubauer

ALFRED NEUBAUER died at his home in Southern Germany during the night of 21st August. He was 89, and had been in good health up to the time of his death.

Neubauer saw service in the first world war and joined Austro Daimler shortly afterwards, becoming one of their driving team and taking part in the 1922 Targa Florio. The following year, he moved to join the Mercedes team, contesting the Monza Grand Prix in 1924. It was not until Mercedes and Benz joined forces in 1926 that he turned his hand to team management. the role in which he was to become world famous.

He had a wonderful eye for potential driving talent, taking on Hermann Lang and Richard Seaman when they were comparatively unknown, and encouraging Caracciola in his first successful years, but it was as a tactician and orgathser that Neubauer excelled. Having started by giving Mercedes some successes in sports car racing in the early thirties, he went on to lead the teams which dominated international formula racing in the immediate pre-war years; always calm and imperturbable, he would be seen at the trackside in his baggy suit with a host of stop watches hanging about his neck.

After the war, Mercedes did not take part in international competition until 1952, but again Neubauer was team leader, and gave the three pointed star a first and second victory at Le Mans that year, the two 300 SL cars finishing within two kilometres of each other after twenty four hours running. 1953 was something of a rest year, to enable Mercedes to develop their Grand Prix car, the W196, in time for the 1954 season. Once again, Neubauer was in charge, and his impeccable organisation paid off, with the new car finishing in first and second places on its first outing at the French Grand Prix. The following year saw the well known Mercedes victory in the Mille Miglia, with Moss and Jenkins in a 300 SLR and Mercedes victories in the Belgian, Dutch, British and Italian Grand Prix events, which gave Fangio the world championship. Between its introduction in 1954, and its last race in 1955, when Mercedes-Benz withdrew from international racing, the W196 had won ten races, had been beaten only three times, and had failed to finish only once. A fine record, which stands as a monument to the ability of the Mercedes racing manager — Alfred Neubauer.

P.H.J.W.