Durability Guarantees

HAVING glanced at the guarantees of maximum speed offered by some car makers in the pre-war period (see page 1176), I now keep coming on those I omitted. Such as the fact that Riley, as well as guaranteeing 80 m.p.h. from the later Brooklands Speed Model Nines (I say “later” because this claim was not made in their 1927 leaflet), also did so for their 1926/27 supercharged o.h.v. four-seater 1½-litre that was a bridge between the side-valve “Redwing” and the Nine, and the speed of 100 m.p.h. apparently guaranteed by Elizade for their 20/30 h.p. straight-eight Grand Sport, in 1922.

I now feel the urge for a similar brief glance-back at durability guarantees. These had to be a clever balance between something that would appeal to the customers and a warranty which would not bankrupt a Company none too sure of how reliable a product would turn out to be in service. Perhaps the best-remembered of these warranties is the old Bentley Motors’ Five-Year-Guarantee, introduced with the 3-litre. This was a courageous gesture on W. O. Bentley’s part to evince confidence in his new, advanced-design sports-car. But even this long-period guarantee was not quite so foolproof for those investing in one of these delectable overhead-camshaft, sixteen-valve Bentleys as it appeared on the face of it. For instance, it referred to the chassis only, not the bodywork, and it excluded, as many such guarantees did, and do, proprietary items like lamps, the electrical system, the shock-absorbers, wheels, and lesser accessories and fittings, and then was valid only in respect of defective materials or workmanship. The need to replace or repair parts worn out by “fair wear and tear” were not covered by the five-year guarantee and this was rendered invalid if the Bentley was used for racing or other competitions without written permission of the Company, if the car was used for hire-work of any description, repairs were made by any person (presumably that included the owner), firm or company, other than Bentley Motors Ltd., unless written permission had been given, or if the weight of the complete car, with equipment, exceeded certain maxima, ranging from 28½ cwt. for the open Speed Model to 35 cwt. for the Standard Model 3-litre. Nevertheless, such an ambitious long-period guarantee might well have cost the Company much money. In fact, by the time the Cricklewood works were well established, a Sunday service arrangement existed for those owners who could only then spare their cars, or whose Bentleys required immediate attention. Incidentally, the Five-Year-Guarantee extended to second and subsequent owners, if they were prepared to pay £5 for the car to be inspected and for any repairs and adjustments thereafter considered necessary.

Having thought in terms of the Bentley guarantee, it became of interest to discover how Rolls-Royce Ltd. compared. Although the fact that Rolls-Royce cars are guaranteed for life is dismissed as one of the many R-R myths, in the Rolls-Royce History compiled by Bird and Hallows, no further reference is made to the matter. However, from “Rolls-Royce — The Living Legend” I was able to ascertain that apparently the Manchester-built Rolls-Royce cars were guaranteed for three calendar months, with the usual reservations, but defective parts, even a crankshaft (shades of vibration problems with the 30 h.p. six-cylinder chassis?) were fitted free of charge, and in later times the Derby works guaranteed the chassis for three years. By then the Rolls-Royce Company was arguing that other manufacturers confined their guarantees to three months, but that three years “should be ample time in which to discover faults in material or workmanship”. The R-R guarantee, as it applied for instance to the 40/50 h.p. chassis, was not only two years shorter than that for a Bentley, but it had more stringent clauses. Thus it seems that it applied only to the original purchaser of the chassis and as well as the stipulations made by Bentley Motors Ltd. Rolls-Royce regarded their guarantee valid only if their pre-1914 chassis were not loaded above a running weight of 50 cwt, and that they had not been used with any tyres other than 895 x 135 or 935 x 135 in size and only if these were of Dunlop, Michelin or Continental manufacture, and of specified tread patterns. Defective cars had to be presented to Derby and nowhere else. This three-year R-R guarantee was continued after WWI, and both Bentley and Rolls-Royce ran inspection schemes to safeguard clients’ cars.

Having discovered these facts, I thought I would dig again into my old catalogues, to see what other guarantees of reliability were being put about, mainly in the vintage years. I found that in the 1920s, Bugattis carried a 12-month guarantee, subject to many of the aforesaid stipulations, no motor-racing, no alteration of identification numbers or marks, or wear and tear, dirt, misuse or neglect. Labour was charged for when replacing defective bits of a Bugatti under warranty. The 30/98 Vauxhall was likewise guaranteed fern year, in Home or Overseas use, and Lionel Martin did the same for his chassis, moreover promising to replace defective parts free at the end of a year’s usage, and then to extend the guarantee for a further twelve months. S. F. Edge, however, was generous to the extent of a three-year guarantee for AC cars of much the same period, perhaps because he was of opinion that “beyond adding oil to the engine and back axle occasionally soother parts require attention, except three greasers and oil in the steering joints.” Edge claimed that the AC (Acedes) chassis was the simplest to look after in the World. . . .

A 12 months’ guarantee was more usual and, as well as Bugattis and Vauxhalls, it applied to many different cars, such as the Eric Longden, Beardmore, Austin, De Dion Bouton, Singer, Hillman, Edison Electric, Ruston-Hornsby, Whitlock, and Lea-Francis, etc.

In contrast, the Morgan 3-wheeler and DEP came with only six-month guarantees as did the Rhode and the “Chain Gang” Frazer Nashes, even in their later forms, the Eric-Campbell and the Salmson, but curiously that for the Leyland Eight seems not to have had any restricting duration-clause.

That was the situation during the nineteen-twenties, and as in the 1980s the average new-car warranty runs for 12-months or 12,000 miles, whichever comes up first, it can be debated whether much progress has been made in the last 60 years, and, indeed, whether we must not regard those vintage cars as commendably durable, in the eyes of their manufacturers, considering the then state of the engineering compared with the cars of today. — W.B.