Motoring Everybody's Motor-Car THE letters I have received from readers
of The Spectator during the past month, setting out their special require- ments in the matter of choosing new cars, have been instructive. I do not know, whether it is fair to assume that even so large a number of letters written, so far as can be judged, by people in most walks of life, enjoying or hampered by nearly every sort of income, with families ranging from none to five, tastes in accommodation between pullman-limousines and two-seaters of the most sketchy order, and ideas on performance as far apart as the poles, I do not know, I say, whether it is fair to conclude from this selection that they represent the average opinion of the car-buying public, but I think it highly probable. Every top price, below the purely luxury figures (over £1,000 as I regard them), is quoted, from £200 upward, and the average works out at between £300 and £400. Everybody, or at least 95 per cent. of my correspondents, puts comfort and body-size above every other consideration, even when, as in a few cases, the normal number of occupants is to be only two. Room for luggage is demanded in nearly every instance and, rather to my._ surprise, the back seats of saloons seem to present themselves as admirable substitutes for trunks. I agree.
Everybody wants lively performance. Only one reader definitely puts his general maximum at under 50 miles an hour, only one at under 60, while the rest, without exception, talk cheerfully of all speeds up to and beyond SO. This also surprises me, not, Of course, when the writers are drivers of long and Continental• experience, but when they are presumably new to the game. It is the commonest, delusion among novices that they will never wish to exceed 40 or 50 miles an hour. The 1934 beginner seems to have realized beforehand what it took his predecessors of former years at least six months to discover, that a car that won't go as fast as the next fellarv's, at the same price and power, is a car that will very shortly be for sale at a heavy loss. One reader's needs interested me particularly. He would not pay more than £500, he would' not buy a foreign car, and he insisted upon something capable of well over 80 miles an hour. It is precisely in that category that it is most difficult _to find an English machine, or, for that matter, any but a very few Ameri- cans. There may be a French-car or two that will beat 130 kilometres an hour, at say_ 40,000 francs in their own country, but I hive not met them—or at all events, not when their price was under_ £500 in this country. I was able to tell this correspondent of one English car that, I believe, will meet his- needs. Had he also demanded ample body-space for long-distance touring and four occupants I should have been stumped for the answer.
Only 10 per cent. asked for open cars, only 3 per cent. for the repellent thing known as -a sports body;- only 15 per cent.:----again to my astonishment—=demanded the drop-head coupe which, -with-or without dickey-seat or shrunken back seat, is to me the ideal all-purpose carriage for two or three people. Of those who asked for saloons every one insisted upon a sliding roof. And this was quite unexpected. I do. not believe the sliding roof is to be regarded in the light of a best-seller. When it first appeared everybody, myself included, thought or at any rate hoped that here at last we had the solution of the problem of how to build a bOdy for the British climate. The design was taken up warmly and a year or two ago there was-hardly a- maker who did not include it in his standard designs, either inclusive or as an extra. During the past few weeks I have again and again recommended cars to' Spectator reaers-that I consider are suitable to their needs—except that they have no sliding roofs. It is, of course, only a matter of taste, but I have not yet met the driver who really wants a sliding roof. If he has one, in nine cases out of ten he only uses it when a passenger asks for the experiment. I am myself an unconvertible adherent to the open car ; yet when I drive other people's luxurious saloons, fitted with sliding roofs, my first act is to close and lock the roof. It is not a substitute for a furled hood and I am at one with those makers who have given up supplying it.
Ninety-five per cent of The Spectator readers very rightly demand large bodies, usually with room for five people. Some, unfortunately, also insist upon low taxation-rate (implying a small "engine), a low price, long life and a high performance. TheSe are not to be found in the same car as yet, or, at least, not in the form I would care to recommend anyone to buy them. With only three exceptions my correspondents hope to keep their cars five years at least. Two of them will be satisfied with 18 months' or two years' reliability, after which they propose to exchange, the remains for new machines ; one of them wants a car that will last him one year. He is an exception, for he makes a habit of buying secondhand cars. In the ordinary course I am not willing 'to advise on so delicate a matter (the possibilities of costly disaster are so numerous), but provided it has not run more than say 10,000 miles or had more than one owner, and is of the highest class no great harm can befall a knowledgeable man who buys a 1933 model for use during 1934. It is possible, if he chooses the right sort, that it will still be the joy of his life in 1940,—possible, but not, with 60 miles an hour as the generally expected maximum, probable.
The pre-selective gear is specifically mentioned as indispensable by one reader and one only, the rest merely remarking that the gear-change, of whatever design, must be easy. And that brings me to the oddest part of the whole affair. " Here was a large number, of average people, quite obviously knowing a good deal about cars, asking for advice on the choice of a car. They gave Inc the essential information I required, the top price, the general purpose for which the car would be wanted, the length of life expected and so forth, but they exhibited only the smallest interest in details. Nobody (with the solitary exception I have mentioned) insisted upon any particular nationality, English or other ; upon 2, 4, 6 or 8 cylinders ; upon precise horse-power ; upon silence of either engine or gears ; upon acceleration or hill- climbing ; upon high or low gear-ratios ; upon any special design of steering, suspension, ignition, cooling, lubrication, brake-adjustment, number (or type) of carburettors, fuel-feed system, valve-operation, or any obvious indication of simplicity of design. '
Every one of these was of the first importance to every enthusiastic owner of any sort of car only a very short time ago, and still is to a very large number. Most details of modern cars are the result of careful thought and may be taken on trust, but—well, would not the ordinary man be interested in whether his engine was fired by magneto or by coil, his brakes capable of adjustment by hand above the floor-boards, or by spanner inconveniently Is not the question of high or low gear-ratio, of accelera- tion, of hill-climbing, of easy high speed on the level of supreme importance ? If he is of that happy company that drives about the world beyond the Channel, does it matter nothing to him whether his engine is over or under cooled, its fuel-feed simple or complicated, its valves easy to keep in order ? On these things much of his content depends, or used to until a short time ago. Perhaps this very incuriosity is eloquent proof of how much can safely be taken for granted when you buy a modern car. Is it true that it does not matter which car you buy ? I do not believe it, except as a wide generalization. It is very difficult- to buy a bad car in 1934, but it is quite easy to buy the wrong one.
Among the types 'advised readers to buy last month are, in alphabetical order,' Austins, B.S.A.s, Citroens, Daimlers, HillMans,,Hiimbers, ianchesters, Rileys, Rovers, Standards, Sunbeams, Triumphs, Vauxhalls and Wolseleys. So far I have only been defeated by inquiries for £200 cars that carry five people in comfort at an average of 35 and a maximum of 60 miles an hour for five years. There is no answer to those.