New cars are commendably inexpensive when valued in terms of currency deflation and the prices now demanded for houses, antique motor-cars, works of art, aeroplanes, etc. You can buy a Fiat 500 for less than £549, a Mini for £663, after meeting purchase-tax. This lines up favourably with the £100 cars of four decades back.
So you have every right to expect top quality in cars costing upwards of £5,000, even if they are only half as expensive as the minimum acceptable dwelling place. Cars in this category should provide very high performance delivered in terms of quiet functioning, first class road-holding and cornering characteristics, real luxury in seating and interior appointments, as well as exuding an air of quality and dignity which will at least suggest a longevity beyond that of the common run of quantity-produced saloons, with the proviso that if performance is exceptional the noise-level may be a trifle above the norm, if handling is outstanding the ride can be that much harder, and so on. But expensive cars should have much closer margins between conflicting qualities than the lesser breeds.
This criteria was attained from Edwardian times onwards. The better cars were capable of undertaking long Continental tours reliably and satisfactorily before the Kaiser War, culminating in the perfection of the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. Emphasis on luxury road-travel continued in the early 1920s, Rolls-Royce superiority being challenged by many new designs, often with traces of aero-engine ancestry, the Leyland Eight being perhaps the most technically-outstanding among the Napier, Lanchester, Hispano-Suiza, Farman, Ensign, Isotta-Fraschini and Sheffield-Simplex bidders for this top bracket market. Parry Thomas, whose brain-child the straight-eight Leyland was, sought to improve the ride through the medium of torsion-bar suspension, when others mostly made do with rear cantilever leaf springs. In those years the conception of the luxury car crystallized. Ease of control was introduced by Lanchester with an epicyclic gearbox for the Forty, later by Armstrong Siddeley with pre-selector gears, and by Daimler’s famous fluid flywheel. Hush was achieved by using sleeve valves, and ingenious drives for the oh-camshafts of the Leyland Eight and Big-Six Bentley. The idea that speed must be allied to dignity was realised long ago, the Lanchester 40 being timed to do nearly 77 m.p.h., and the 40/50 Napier over 72 m.p.h. by 1921/22, when a sixteen valve Bugatti, surely the epitome of the sporting car, could only just exceed 58 m.p.h. In that age the top-cars possessed long bonnets and usually offered privacy to the occupants of their drawing room-like back-compartments. The latter advantage was maintained by R-R up to the last Cloud, but in a class-less age it presumably does not matter if all and sundry can peer at a car’s occupants as they drive past, although it seems doubtful if this thinking caused Crewe to open-up the window area when planning the Silver Shadow!
How do today’s luxury-cars shape up ? There are ten makes on the British market costing more than £7,000, and at that price you might expect the very best of everything a motor vehicle has to offer. Yet the £9,580 Maserati Indy, effortless express that it is, did not impress DSJ when he tried it last year, and the £11,000 Lamborghini Espada has been criticised in both the technical and non-technical Press recently, although DSJ saw the point of this one. At £10,550 and £13,000. respectively, the now-improved Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow and the Mercedes-Benz 600 should be good and few enthusiasts will dispute the excellence and covetability of the £5,559 Dino Ferrari, but the £8,949 Aston Martin V8 has had a stormy passage and Jensen have dropped their unique four-wheel-drive FR. The SM Citroën is not yet known in this country.
All of which emphasises the astonishingly good value of the new British 5.3-litre Jaguar XJ12. It is very quiet, has all the luxury appointments including real leather upholstery, clings to the road on its special Dunlop tyres, and is a 12-cylinder saloon as distinct from a cramped GT car, in an age when V12s are rare anyway. Power steering and automatic transmission reduce driver effort to a minimum and claimed performance embraces a top speed of about 140 m.p.h., 0-60 in 7.6 sec., and a s.s. 1/4-mile in less than 16 sec. Yet it costs only £3,725.64. . . For customers who are not Jaguar people there is the even more luxurious Daimler edition, rejoicing in the traditional name of “Double-Six” (see page 998). These new Jaguar products make most top-bracket cars seem extremely costly. Let us take heart that Britain has produced these two very significant new cars in this exclusive category.
• The new Jensen-Healey
The Editor writes: I took over this new sports car with exactly 2,000 miles on its total-mileometer, before which it had developed fuel-pump failure and ruined our chance to do some track-testing. With its twin-cam sixteen valve engine running on low-octane petrol I had the passing thought that it resembled a pre-1914 GP racing job, until I released the high-set hand-brake and a sign lit up reading “Fasten Belts”, after which it became obvious that it thought it was a blooming air-liner. I liked the smooth way it took fast bends and having 1,500-2,000 r.p.m. in hand in ordinary driving before I got anywhere near the 7,000 rev. limit. But there was severe body-shake on rough roads which I thought had gone out with the 1950s. I was surprised that Donald Healey, who has won the Monte Carlo Rally, should be content with snow-scoops under the Lucas headlamps, and in rain the car was terribly porous, even to water entering the under-facia stowage drawer. The hood has sensible securing sockets but strong wrists are essential to its erection. The wipers clanked loudly but wiped a far larger area of the laminated screen than those on the Fiat 128 coupé in which I kept the car-changing rendezvous. The full-beam warning light is plumb in the driver’s line of vision but decently subdued, unlike the flashers’ indicator lamps, which are designed to promote migraine. A run embracing the M4 Motorway, main roads and some town work gave just better than 21 m.p.g. of 3-star fuel, the tank taking 11.6 gallons, and thus giving a range of 244 miles. But as the gauge reads zero long before this, the Jensen-Healey driver would make far too frequent stops on a Continental Motorway. My “disgraceful” country drive did not cause the car to ground, so there is more clearance than an Elan possesses. Really, it is like an MG-B with a nice new engine. — W. B.
(For full road test see Page 1014).
Peter Walker, Secretary of State for the Environment, has announced a phased programme to reduce the lead content in petrol. The maximum permitted level of 0.84 grammes per litre will be cut to 0.45 grammes per litre by the end of 1975. The oil and motor industries have been fully consulted and have agreed to co-operate.
The new twin-cam 6-cylinder Mercedes-Benz 280E and CE models which have been available in Germany since May this year have just been launched in Britain in right-hand-drive-form. The 2.8-litre engines are completely new and feature Bosch electronic injection and transistorised ignition although the chassis remains basically unaltered apart from wider wheels, larger disc brakes and a 17-gallon tank. Manual transmission of either four or five speeds is available on automatic transmission. Top speed of the 280CE is a claimed 124 m.p.h. The 280E retails for £3,775 and the more luxurious 280CE for £4,275.