The Demand for Better Cars
THERE IS one particularly welcome feature in the letters I receive weekly from Spectator readers asking for advice on the choice of new cars, and that is that the maximum price they are willing to pay is at least 30 per cent. higher than it was this time last year. This is common to them all, from the man who is considering the merits of the Hillman, the Morris, the Wolseley and other cars costing well below £200 to his possibly luckier brother who cannot make up his mind whether to buy an Alvis, a Daimler, a Buick or a Talbot, or any of their price-class rivals. High Ministers of State have lately told us in un- mistakable enthusiasm that if we are not yet being carried forward and upward on a wave of prosperity we are at least within measurable distance of it. The wave may not have reached us yet, but it is forming, gathering shape and bulk, and we are already conscious of its approach. They are cautious, sometimes, these Ministers, particularly the most important, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and when they go as far as they have lately done in optimistic prophecy, the blackest pessimist among us can take courage. It is not necessary to read official speeches, however, to be convinced of the presence of really better times.
In the buying and sclling of motor-cars you have an infallible guide to the quality of the times. In a depres- sion the first thing on which the average man tries to economise is his car. He may try to sell it and, for obvious reasons, fail to do so save at an absurd sacrifice. So he lays it up part of the year, or uses it as little as possible, and indefinitely postpones the day for the buying of a new one. Or, in extreme cases, he lays it up altogether and buys cheaply a used smaller model that he anxiously hopes will prove a cheap substitute.
His neighbour who was on the point of buying a new one, his first or his twentieth, puts the catalogues into the wastepaper basket and makes inquiries about season- tickets, coach routes, and so on. Business in the motor trade goes down with disconcerting swiftness.
When the times improve, the family car is the first thing to be remembered, the item that heads the list cf things that can no longer be spared. It is a long while now since any sort of car except a racer has been looked upon as a luxury and not a practical necessity.
I notice in the letters of the past month that in addition to enlarging their ideas of price most of my corre- spondents are taking a wider and more comfortable view of what a family car should be and what may be expected of it. They want space, sensible people, and a reasonable yield of power ; acceleration, quiet running and a decent showing of speed—all things for which you have to pay if you want them all in one car. It is, to me at least, significant that not more than one- in twenty mentions petrol consumption or, still more significant, tax-rating. For years these two costs have been the perfectly inexplicable bogies of family motordom.
People who were able and willing to set aside a more than sufficient sum of money every year to keep them in car-comfort and peace of mind would become quite unbalanced on the subject of tax and fuel. They would deliberately choose a car that was obviously going to be overworked for its power, for the sake of £2 or a year saved from the revenue ; they would attach far more importance to the story called "30 miles to the gallon" told about an unsuitable car than to the obvious and far more important excellences of a better ' car that would only do 25 to the gallon.
That phase seems to be most happily past. Readers of The Spectator are far more concerned with such practical matters as leg- and elbow-room, ventilation, illumination, case of entrance and exit and luggage accommodation. Nearly every inquiry I get mentions these as essentials before going on to maximum speed and other attractions. The car for Everyman today has to be a great deal better in a great many more ways than any of its predecessors. It cannot " get away with it" on sheer cheapness. Low price is no longer accepted as an excuse for any important shortcomings. If it only costs -.E150 or less it must be a practical conveyance before all else if it is to have the smallest success.
The ability to carry at least three adults in proper comfort on extended touring is another new demand. Until a year or two ago that enchanting game was left to the comparatively few who had leisure, large cars and a knowledge of Continental travel. To tear the modest family car from its lawful occasions on the high roads to station, market town and occasional week-end run, and invite it to compete with Blue Trains to Gib- raltar or Buda Pesth seemed an unattainable vision. The whole business of motor travel between Calais and the Carpathians has now been so simplified that, like the 60-h.p. tourer, the 10-h.p. saloon must be a world- cruiser too.
Most of the new ears I have tried in the past few months come well up to expectation. There is a great deal more room in them for four people than there was in their predecessors, proper housing for a fair amount of luggage is provided and, generally speaking, they are a great im- provement. In certain directions, however, there is still urgent need for intelligent work. Most of them are, of course, much too heavy, some being heavier than last year's models. Weight is waste, as several distinguished Continental and American makers have recently demon- strated. It is not progress to increase dead-weight in proportion to power-increase. Then there is room for improvement in what is generally called visibility, that is the provision of a wide and clear view of the road for the driver, including a generous sight of the wings. In only three 1936 ears tried have I been able to see these properly and in only these three have I sat as one should, well over one's work, so to speak. One of these cars is capable of something not far off 100 miles an hour and is, I suppose, of a distinctly unfamily sort.
Exit and entrance are still difficult in almost every closed car made, and it is a perpetual source of wonder that the pillarless design has made so little advance in this country. It is not very widely used on the Continent and not at all, so far as I know, in the United States, but those foreign makers who adopted it continue to use it. It makes all the difference in the world in a saloon on a short wheelbase and adds notably to the comfort in a larger car. It is still a gymnastic feat to get into the front seat of any but a big car today, particularly if it is low in the roof. It is partly owing to the deep scuttle, of course, but it seems to inc that the absence of that central pillar must reduce discomfort and difficulty that are an anachronism in a modern car. JOHN PRIOLEAU.
[NOTE.—licaders' requests for advice from our Motoring Correspondent on the choice of new cars should be accom- panied by a stamped and addressed envelope. The highest price payable must be given, as well as the type Of body required. No advice can be given on the purchase,. sale or exchange of used cars.]