A 2-litre Six-Cylinder Open Car of all round Merit and Decided Individuality
We have often wondered what would happen if an enterprising manufacturer re-introduced a famous vintage car and planted it down on his stand amidst the modern exhibits at the Earls Court Exhibition. To some extent an answer is provided by the post-war sales-success of the A.C., for this is a car which in some respects follows in the vintage tradition.
For instance, its six-cylinder engine is basically similar to that designed for A.C. by John Weller at the close of World War I, although it has been improved materially in detail since those faraway days and was, in any case, of such advanced o.h. camshaft, light-alloy, wet-liner construction in 1919 that it remains a very fine power unit today. Further, A.C. retain non-independent leaf-spring suspension, while the gear-lever is of the good “old fashioned” sort. And the Buckland sports-tourer is one of the few fully-openable five-seaters still in production. The result is an interesting car, which we were naturally anxious to try, if only to get its individuality into proper perspective.
Mr. E. J. Bailey, of Buckland Body Works, Buntingford, who makes the open sports tourer on the A.C. chassis, recently permitted us to drive his prototype demonstrator, which changed our curiosity into respect. As he handed the car over to us, Mr. Bailey quietly instilled some A.C.-enthusiasm. “This Buckland sports-tourer,” he explained, “has covered over 30,000 miles, including two long Continental tours, and apart from one routine removal of the head, no major work has been required, so I don’t suppose you will have any trouble. So far as the rigid front axle on its ½-elliptic springs is concerned, try cornering at 70 m.p.h. before passing comment.” Mr. Bailey also remarked that the first set of tyres lasted 20,000 miles, which is far more than you expect from tyres on independently suspended wheels. To which we readily conceded that the absence of pivots and linkages (which must inevitably develop wear and thereafter function less efficiently) appeals to us, and that what was good for a certain talented French designer works very well on the A.C.
In view of these preliminary remarks, the handling qualities of the car were our first concern. There is a rather “dead” feel about the ride and steering, reminiscent of cars of the later-vintage era when chassis had become stiffer but springs had yet to become softer. There is no denying that in the A.C. one is conscious both aurally and physically, when a wheel strikes a pot-hole, but, conversely, the ride is not hard; indeed, soft up-and-down motion is present over uneven surfaces and on the car tried a sudden change of direction or quick negotiation of a double bend resulted in distinct roll oversteer. The latter may have been due to tired springs or dampers and certainly round normal corners the A.C. steered accurately at high speeds, although with an oversteer tendency, which resulted in some concentration being necessary also along the straights.
With growing acquaintance of the car we grew to like these rather “vintage” handling characteristics, particularly as the A.C. can be cornered very fast indeed without the disconcerting “front-end lean” of many i.f.s. systems and without early breakaway of back or front wheels.
The steering is heavy, although less so as speed increases, but it has the pleasant attribute that, acting against strong castor-action, it is devoid of lost motion. It is also “quick” steering, geared 21/3 turns lock-to-lock, and very little return-motion is transmitted back to the driver’s hands, although bad roads can promote very considerable scuttle-shake which naturally affects the steering column. Indeed, under extreme conditions the wheel can be snatched from a light grasp.
As the column is adjustable an ideal position can be achieved with the long, rigid central gear-lever coming nearly up to the wheel-rim, and the instruments readily visible through this 16 in. leather-bound Bluemel “Brooklands” spring steering wheel, the driver feels in full command. Admittedly it took us some time to get used to the reclining driving position (incidentally, the front seats adjust like a bench-seat, but have separate, folding squabs) nor is there much parking space for one’s clutch foot, but these criticisms are mitigated by the splendid visibility, through the single-pane fold-flat screen, of both raised front wings, although even so it took us some time to become acclimatised to the width of this A.C.
Before setting about analysing the A.C.’s performance characteristics and abilities, we paused to admire the many practical features of its sports-tourer body. The design is most arresting and the car we tried, black with fawn upholstery and hood, called forth much favourable comment, including that of a retired Army officer within the first 40 miles of “ownership”—this gentleman expressed himself as “lost in admiration,” not wholly, we hope, because amongst badges displayed was that of the British Field Sports Society! There is no denying it, this Buckland A.C. is indeed a very smart motor car, as our illustration shows.
Sensible detail treatment is found throughout the car. The wide doors, one on each side, and absence of running boards render entry to front or back seats extremely easy. There is ample room for three adults or four juveniles on the back seat and this open A.C. constitutes an ideal car for the family motorist, for the door handles are out of reach of back seat occupants, body sides are high and there is ample protection from the hood even if the rear side-screens are not erected, while the hood sticks, a further safeguard against disobedient youngsters projecting themselves into the road. The high-grade hood is easy to raise and stow and when fully folded disappears into the body, with a cover over it and bags to conceal its sticks; in this form, and with screen folded flat, the A.C. is in excellent trim for rallies and other competition events. The hood clips are fully adequate to the speed of the car. On the other hand, in closed form the Buckland is entirely weatherproof and as snug as a saloon.
The rear boot is of generous capacity, its lid is light and locks, and the side-screens stow behind a panel out of harm from the luggage. The rear Perspex panel to the hood allows the effective anti-dazzle rear-view mirror full scope. The doors have single pulls, usefully wide pockets, push-out ash-trays and wind-up Perspex windows. The window slides and front panels detach easily so as not to mar the clean lines of the car when it is fully open.
The facia and screen-sill is leather-covered to match the upholstery, the Smith’s instruments comprising three main dials — rev.-counter (red mark at 4,200 r.p.m.), 100-m.p.h. speedometer with trip, and combined thermometer, ammeter, oil gauge and fuel gauge. The light switches are sensible and “un-fussy,” and equipment includes heater, radio, screen-sprays and self-cancelling direction indicators.
Another very good feature is the hand-brake which, although of the current “umbrella-handle” variety, protrudes from the centre of the floor at a convenient angle, and holds securely. The A.C. is low-built, necessitating a propeller-shaft tunnel, but this does not unduly inconvenience the back-seat occupants
The slim engine is revealed by lifting centrally-hinged rubber-sealed bonnet top-panels; battery, fuse-boxes, oil-can, etc., are well to hand on the facia-shelf, and plugs and dip-stick (very hot!) are reasonably accessible. We noted the big Fram oil filter, and an air-cleaner on each of the triple S.U. carburetters.
No performance figures were taken, but it may be remarked that the engine goes very easily to its limit of 4,500 r.p.m., which represents genuine maxima on the indirect gears of approximately 25, 43, and 59 m.p.h. We were told that the top-gear maximum approaches 90 m.p.h., and with screen erect 3,500 r.p.m. in top (67 m.p.h.) is frequently reached along ordinary roads; 60 represents an easy cruising gait of 3,000 r.p.m.
There is some noise from engine and gears when accelerating, but the five-bearing six-cylinder unit is remarkably smooth and quiet, so that only the hum of the “Super Cushions” and noise of the rev.-counter drive intrudes at normal speeds. allowing the Motorola to give of its best. When idling the engine is almost inaudible and the rev.-counter has to be observed to ensure correct throttle opening for a smooth take-off; although rubber mounted the only tremor is via the clutch pedal. The transmission is in keeping, for on the over-run the car proceeds so effortlessly that, had it not been for the rev.-counter reading, we should have attributed this easy progression to a free-wheel.
Oil pressure varies from 10-80 lb./sq. in. with engine speed and the normal water temperature is 75 deg. C., the heater having to be in operation before the thermometer gives a true reading. The gear lever is stiff, but delightfully positive to operate, the synchromesh works well, and reverse calls for firm lifting action, obviating unintentional engagement. To achieve good acceleration calls for proper use of second and third gears, as would be expected of a 24 ¾ cwt. car, the under 2-litre engine of which pulls a 4.55 to 1 axle ratio. The Girling 12 in. hydraulic brakes worked admirably, under firm pedal pressure, although fading somewhat from high speeds; incidentally, both brake and clutch pedals have pivotted foot-plates. The ½-elliptic front springs resist the new-fangled curtsey. 20 m.p.g. was habitually obtained, and, although the engine “pinks” on “Pool,” it starts extremely easily and does not “run-on.” Some heat was conveyed to the front passenger’s feet. The lamp dipper foot-switch is badly placed.
As we became more fully acquainted with the car we found we could get it round corners most effectively; if anyone has any doubts about this we would remind them of Jim Mayers’ drive during the Daily Express Production Car Race, when he got a saloon round Silverstone faster than a 2-litre i.f.s. car costing over £1,500 more than the A.C. Incidentally, our test embraced 737 trouble-free miles, during which no fall was observed in the Essolube or cooling-water levels.
The Buckland body has been in production for some years, and its makers have profited by experience; thus the current model has improved winding windows, an enlarged locker, new radiator grille and Perspex rear window. Any colour can be supplied to customer’s choice and the parts normally plated may be had in bronze if desired; a car so finished will be shown at Earls Court.
We like the general conception of this A.C. and consider that it would constitute an ideal car for those who feel unwilling to acquiesce the squidgy refinements of the average modern car, but who find a vintage vehicle not wholly suited to their every day requirements. There is no denying the attraction of an open car even in this damp island (where, however, it does not rain as continually as we tend to imagine—ask your typist how many days this week she has brought her umbrella to the office without opening it!) Also, on account of its refreshing individuality, the A.C. should continue to command a ready sale in American and other hard-currency countries.—W. B.