MAKES A CLASSIC CAR?
Growth of an Industry
the motor industry is essential to the commercial prosperity of almost
all the world's industrialized nations, with production dominated by a
handful of massive multi-nationals. Hundreds of individual marques have
fallen by the wayside since the first motorcars were hand built at the
turn of the century and the post-war classic period of mergers and take-over
saw the eclipse of many once famous names. It was in 1908 that this process
began, when Henry Ford pioneered mass-production with his Model T, while
over in Europe, a few years later, cars like the Austin Seven and Bullnose
Morris began to be produced in sufficient numbers to bring motoring within
the reach of the middle classes. Since the late 1970s robots have replaced
some of the manual jobs on the production lines, but there will always
be a place for hand Grafted supercars and luxury cars from companies such
as Aston Martin and Rolls Royce.
MAKES A CLASSIC?
“Without a certain amount of snobbery, efforts would be hopeless.
A motorcar must be designed and built that is a little different from
and a little better than the product of the big quantity manufacturer.”
Cecil Kimber, founder of MG, had it right. He sensed a need and virtually
invented the concept of the classic – but MGs have never been particularly
special or mechanically innovative. What they do have, however, is that
little extra desirability, so that owners and onlookers alike see them
as classic cars. MGs are instantly recognizable, even too many non enthusiasts,
in much the same way that Jaguars, Ferraris and Bentleys are – all
of them true classics.
Most enthusiasts would categorize a classic car as one whose design is
inalienably right: it must look good, handle well, probably be possessed
of higher performance or equipment levels than were normal for its day
– but most enthusiasts with overall it must be desirable.
Age alone cannot make a classic, even though a common definition given
today is "any car more than 20 years old". Those who use that
definition would say that Avengers and Marinas are classics; other criteria
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but there is no disputing the beauty
of a real classic. Who cannot be moved by the shape and form of a Bugatti
Type 35, Alfa Monza, Duesenberg, Jaguar XK120 or early E-Type, Ferrari
250 GT, AC Ace, Citroen DS and Mercedes Gullwing, by the stark efficiency
of an early Porsche 911 or the simplicity of the Austin Seven or Mini?
Then there were the "firsts", each with its claim to classicdom:
Colin Chapman's Lotus Seven, a racer for the road; the Mini Cooper 'S'
which further defined the small car and was the first "pocket rocket";
the Hispano-Suiza and Pegaso, Spain's only, exquisitely made supcrcars
from the 20s and 50s respectively; the Reliant Scimitar GTE which introduced
a new concept — the sporting estate car; the Golf GTi, which spawned
a whole new breed of enthusiasts' car. Each of these counts as a classic
for defining a new niche in car-lovers' hearts. That each one of these
cars — and many more like them - is notable in its own field helps
reinforce its claim to be a true classic.
a classic is in motion, the engine does more than any other feature to
give it character. The 1945—75 period started with almost universal
use of side valve power, except on the— most costly and exotic cars,
and ended with multiple camshafts and valves, fuel injection and unusual
materials becoming the norm. Most of these advances were first developed
for racing, then refined for road use as they showed the way to efficiency.
Progress had meant more performance. Where 1940s power outputs were small,
by the 70s, engines in better sportscars were up to 80bhp per litre. Efficiency
came from ideally-shaped combustion chambers, usually hemispherical, for
which a more complex arrangement is usually needed. The simplest way to
operate these is by overhead cams, first seen on a Clement of 1902 and
used by Alfa Romeo, Bentley, and Bugatti in the 20s, MG in the 30s and
Jaguar since the 50s, but not used on non-classics develop but usually
leads to better breathing.
Further advances included fuel injection, which did away with compromises
forced by carburettors. It was first used on production cars, in rather
basic form, by Chevrolet on its Corvette in 1954 and by Mercedes-Benz
on its technical tour de force 300SL in 1955. In the early 70s, Bosch's
Jetronic systems began to appear on performance classics such as the Porsche
911. Since 1993, with universal fitment of catalytic converters, fuel
injection has become a necessity, along with electronic ignition, which
began to appear at the end of the 60s. For convenience, the hydraulic
tappet was designed by Bollee in 1910. General Motors began to fit them
in the 30s, leading to extra mechanical refinement and less servicing.
Hydraulic tappets were universal in America by the 60s; now almost all
cars use them. These are the milestone power units:-
The XK was designed in the Second World War hy the nicknamed "Firewatchers"
Walter Ilassan, Harry Mundy and Bill Heynes when they were on evening
fire duty. It is the epitome of the classic in-line twin-cam engine and
was sorely needed as an alternative to the pedestrian Standard engines
Jaguar was forced to use before and immediately after the war. Launched
in the XK120 of 1948, displacing 3.4 litres and producing 160bhp, it enjoyed
its finest moment in a road car as the 265bhp 3.8 which propelled the
1962 E-Type coupe to 150mph (241kph). In 3.0- and 3.4-litre dry-sumped
form it took D-Types to Le Mans wins and powered Jaguar saloons right
up to 1987.
A cast-off from Buick (the Americans had found themselves good at thin-wall
iron casting so there was no need for fancy light-alloy stuff), this 3528cc
engine was discovered by Maurice Wilks on a visit to America in 1966.
Realizing this compact unit would be perfect for powering Rover's big
P5 saloon, he quickly acquired the rights. It was a good move: the staid,
heavy saloon was transformed into one with a top speed of llOmph (177kph)
and 0-60 (96) in 10 seconds. The engine did sterling service in the Rover
3500 before proving itself ideal for the Range Rover of 1970. Light and
tunable, this engine has also found favour with MG, TVR, Marcos —
and survives in 4.6-litre form in the Range Rover of 1996.
Complex, beautifully made and exquisitely finished, Ferrari's engines
are expensively engineered for big power at huge revs. The V-twelve was
first seen in 1946 as the tiny Colombo-designed two-litre V-twelve 166.
The larger Lampredi-designed engine appeared in 1951, in the 340 America.
In front-engined Ferrari V-twelve parlance, the model number gives the
displacement of one cylinder; multiply by 12 and you have the engine size.
The four-camshaft layout arrived witli the 275GTB/4 of 1966. This classic
sports-car power unit looks as good as it goes: almost always with twin
oil filters nestling together at the front of the vee and black crackle-finish
cam covers cast with the legend "Ferrari".
One of the longest-lived engines ever, this air-and oil-cooled flat six
was derived from the flat four first seen pre-war in the VW Beetle. It
grew from the 120bhp two-litre of 1963 to a turbocharged 3.3-litre, punching
out a seamless 300bhp with so much torque that only a four-speed gearbox
was needed. Pioneering the Nikasil cylinder lining that did away with
iron liners, and always with a single camshaft per cylinder bank, these
exactingly engineered powerplants have a Germanic reputation for reliability
and longevity. In the most classic 91 of all, the RS Can-era of 1973,
it produces 210bhp at 7000rpm on mechanical fuel injection - accompanied
by raw exhaust snarl that tingles the spine. A derivative still powers
the current 911.
Colin Chapman realized in the 60s that twin camshafts were the way to
achieve higher output with the low engine weight he needed for his small
sportscars, it made sense to base this hitherto prohibitively expensive
arrangement on existing engine technology. Ford's simple, light and tough
1340cc Kent engine from the short-lived Capri was the ideal candidate.
For it, Autocar's then technical editor Harry Mundy designed a light-alloy
twin-cam head with hemispherical combustion chambers and near-perfect
valve angles. When Ford announced that the base pushrod engine would be
enlarged to 1600cc form Chapman's new engine displaced 1558cc and produced
105bhp on twin carburettors. It has appeared in the Elan, the Europa,
Lotus Cortinas and even early Escorts and inspired many followers.
The first suspension for cars — the most classically simple arrangement
of all — was copied from horse-drawn carts. The beam axle, held
to the chassis by leaf springs, is the simplest form of springing. It's
still used, in little-modified form, on many of today's trucks. The system
was used on the most basic cars until the 50s and at the rear end of many
cheaper cars until the 80s.
Soon, however, with increasing engine sophistication and speed, cart springs
put limits on a car's ability to ride well and handle safely. By 1924,
makers like Frazer Nash were trying extra links to control the axle's
movement better while still springing it by leaf. The next big move was
to independent suspension - where the movement of one wheel does not affect
the other. Most of the world's favorite classic cars have this in some
form but the way suspension is arranged seems to be national preference.
Americans were keen on independent front suspension by wishbones from
the 1930s. An American invented the now universal MacPherson strut, although
it was first used on a British car, the Ford Consul, in 1950.
Germans pioneered independent suspension by swing axles with the Mercedes,
which lasted into the 60s. VW used a pair of trailing links, in parallel
on each side of the car, for independent front suspension for the Beetle,
which had a semi swing axle rear suspension. The typical set-up to be
found on a performance saloon of the 60s and 70s consisted of MacPherson
struts at the front and semi trailing arms at the rear. With liftoff or
extreme power over steer (tail slides) easily available, this produced
what most enthusiasts would count as "classic" handling. The
tail-heavy Porsche 911 and all BMWs of the 60s and 70s that were equipped
with semi trailing arms tended to over steer.
The Italian Fiat Topolino was ingeniously sprung by lower wishbones, transverse
leaf springs, forming the upper links. Lancia used the same set-up in
the 60s at the front of its Fulvia and Flavia models and it could be found
under Fiat-drive Seats of the 80s.
The purest and most classic suspension system of all, however, is the
double wishbone set-up, used by practically all single-seat racing cars
since the 50s and on most supercars thereafter. It's costly to make and
can be tricky to set up correctly but offers the best fully-independent
wheel control thanks to its ideal geometry and acceptable unsprung weight.
Ford's slab-sided new Consul of 1950 broke new ground with its full-width
body hiding a new suspension system that revolutionized the way cars were
built. An American Ford engineer, Earle S. MacPherson, came up with a
new design for independent suspension whose beauty lay in its simplicity.
MacPherson struts were used on every new small Ford — including
the Classic of 1961 — and are the most common front suspension system
Air suspension was tried by Cadillac on the 1958 Brougham and by Mercedes
on its 300 and 600 saloons of the 60s. Air suspension provides a truly
supple ride but air-bag durability, a fall in handling precision and the
fact that modern, computer-controlled suspension is better made it a blind
brakes were blocks of wood made to rub against wheel rims by a system
of levers. This is how Trevithick’s steamer of 1804 was slowed.
As a method of stopping, it was woefully inadequate even for horse-drawn
The 1886 Daimsler used a wire hawser wrapped around a wooden ring mounted
to the wheel hub. Pulling a lever tightened the wire, which slowed the
rotating drum. A refinement of this was the use of a flexible steel band
lined with wooden blocks or a strip of leather: This increased the brake’s
efficiency by extending its friction area.
In 1901, Maybach introduced the internally expanding drum brake. It used
a ring of friction material pressed against the inside of a brake drum
by rollers. This was used on the 1903 Mercedes 40hp. Meanwhile, in 1902,
Louis Renault designed the definitive drum brake still used today.
Renault's brake used two curved shoes fixed to a backplate, each pivoted
at one end. The other ends rested on a cam. When the brake pedal was pressed,
the cam forced the shoes apart and against the inside of the drum.
Drum brakes served for 50 years. Initially, they were used on rear wheels
only, for it was feared front brakes could cause skids. Mercedes was the
first maker to fit four-wheel brakes, but only as an option, in 1903.
All-wheel braking did not become a universal fitting until the 20s. Ever-increasing
power and speed demanded more powerful drum brakes, which meant larger
and wider. The ultimate form was the huge twin-leading shoe drums used
by llie Auto-Union and Mercedes "silver arrows" racing cars
just before the Second World War. These incorporated scoops and fins for
maximum ventilation to keep temperatures moderate and reduce brake fade.
When friction material becomes too hot, it stops working.
Discs take over
Nothing bettered these until Jaguar turned the brake world on its head
willi the disc brakes it pioneered on its C-Types at Le Mans in 1953.
Crosley in America had tried discs in 1949 but soon stopped production.
Jaguar gave discs worldwide acceptance. These brakes, borrowed from the
aircraft industry, use a pair of friction pads to grip and slow a disc
mounted to and spinning with the wheel hub. Because they dissipate heat
better and are far more resistant to fade, they give much more powerful
stopping for longer than drum brakes. Jaguar won the race that year. There
was no going back. By 1956, Girling disc brakes were a standard fitment
to Triumph's new sportscar, the TR3, and the Jensen 54.1 had Dunlops.
Jaguar offered Dunlop disc brakes as an option that year on its XK140.
Every model since lias had all-round discs as standard.
By the time four-wheel drum brakes were standardized at the end of the
20s, they operated by cables, rods and levers, or hydraulics, or a combination
of both. Austin's Hydro-mechanical system, used on its small cars of the
40s and 50s, operated front brakes by hydraulics and rear by a system
of rods. The MG Magna sportscar of the 30s had brakes operated by a system
of cross-linkages and cables wliich needed frequent adjustment. The Americans
had been using hydraulics since the Cliryslcr 58 of 1926. Citroen had
its own ideas. Since the revolutionary DS of 1955, its cars have had fully-powcrcd
disc brakes all round. Tills gives powerful braking witli liglit pedal
pressure. Rolls-Royce used Citroen's high-pressure braking system for
its Silver Sliadow first seen in 1965.
The classic supercar brake setup, of servo-assisted, multipiston calipers
gripping a ventilated disc brake at eacli wheel, lias not been bettered.
Antilock brakes — derived from aircraft technology — were
pioneered in production on the four-wheel drive Jcnscn FF in 1966. They
were not generally available until the 80s.
The classic tyre always seems to be a bit wider and fatter than those
on a modern car. Since cars began, the trend has been for fatter and stickier
tyres. But it's the high-performance, most costly cars — the classics
— that get them first. Crossply tyres, tall, unstylish, inflexible
and short on grip, hung on into the 60s, but the classic tyres have all
styling, the car's skin, is the emotional trigger that attracts most of
us to a motorcar: driving it comes later, to seal the love affair—
or end it. A pretty but underachieving car will always have more followers
than one that drives like a dream but doesn't look like one.
1945 – 1955
Many mass-produced cars were still tall and spindly. They had separate
headlights and mudguards and narrow, letter-box screens.
In Italy, however, coachbuilder Battista "Pinin" Farina (later
Pininfarina) had not been idle. His pre-war aerodynamic bodywork on the
Lancia Aprillia chassis hinted at the disappearance of the separate wing
profile within fully enveloping sides. Will] the Cisitalia 202 and Maserati
1500 Berlinetta, the theme found full expression. Simple and slender,
these cars inspired a generation to come, including the beautiful Lancia
Aurelia B20 of 1950, the first of the modern Gran Turismo coupes and a
masterpiece of its period. Pininfarina styled many of the great Ferraris
too, but it was Touring's classic 166 Barchetta, a model of elegant simplicity,
that got the ball rolling in 1948.
influenced the AC Ace of 1954, another stunningly pretty h ape later tarnished
by the bulging arches o the hybrid Cobra in the early 60s. There was nothing
so radical going on in Britain, though few could argue with the perfect
poise and elegant purity of Jaguar's XK120, inspired by the pre-war BMW
It was in America that some of the most influential, if not the best,
styling would be created over the next decade or so. By 1948, the Americans
were starting to shake off the pre-war left-over and were shaping some
radical cars: Ford's Custom series brought with it the new all-enveloping
styling - later imitated on the British Mkl Ford Consul/Zephyr series
-while the "step-down" Hudson Super Six looked rakishly low
and modern. The first tiny rear fins were beginning to appear on the Series
62 Cadillacs, a taster of what was to come.
It was Europe's sportscars that Americans were developing a real taste
for by the early 50s: the 1953 Healey 100/4 was undeniably attractive,
with a simple, perfectly balanced shape that was to survive 15 years.
The TR2 was bug-eyed and awkward by contrast, yet enormously successful.
The American influence was still strong during this period as the separate
mudguard all but disappeared in the name of full-bodied, all-enveloping
modernity. The trend was towards lower, wider cars. Chrome was still used
in abundance but glass areas increased, hand in band, with half-framed
doors and dog-leg wrap-around screens. In Britain, coach-building was
still a lively trade as big luxury cars — mostly those of Rolls-Royce
and Bentley - still had separate chassis construction, but this decade
was to see many famous old names — even Rolls-Royce — switch
to unitary construction which didn't really allow for coach built bodywork.
Pininfarina took the styling initiative in the second half of the 50s
with the Lancia Florida show car. Like the Cisitalia nine years earlier,
here was a true turning point in design. The Florida's taut, chisel-edged
architecture was set to influence big-car styling for decades (the 1957
Lancia Flaminia saloon came closest to original expression). An even more
radical big saloon was Citroen's DS of 1955, a car that was as futuristic
in looks as it was in technical detail. Another frontrunner in the beauty
stakes was the 507 of 1955 from BMW, styled by Albrecht Goertz. Created
to capture American sales and to challenge the 300SL Mercedes, it was
always too expensive, but its slender, pinched-waist design remains one
of the greats.
The Americans were on the verge of the tail-fin craze at this point, particularly
General Motors designs. Under styling supremo Harley Earl, everything
from the humble Chevrolet Bel Air upwards had rocket-inspired fins by
In Britain the second half of the 50s brought MG's pretty A roadster,
the best-looking car they ever built, while Lotus was about to break into
the mainstream with the delicate Elite, a timelessly elegant little coupe.
Meanwhile, Bertone of Italy built the first of its memorable, long-lived
Guiletta Sprint Coupes in 1955, offered with a Pininfarina Spider version.
Form came second to function with the revolutionary Mini Minor of 1959,
so the car was never designed to win catwalk prizes. Yet the boxy shape
was so right and so eternally fashionable (and has changed so little)
that it surely deserves a styling accolade.
Pininfarina - a big fan of the Mini — was virtually Ferrari's official
stylist by the end of the 50s, shaping such classics as the Spider California,
the 250 GT and countless show-stopping one-offs. He never got it more
right than with the 250 Berlinetta Lusso: here was a compact two-seater
with perfect proportions.
Much the same could be said of Jaguar's sensational E-Type roadster and
coupe launched at Geneva in 1961. Malcolm Sayers's slim and sensual design
was a lesson in motorcar architecture, derived from his D-Type racer of
the mid-50s. American styling was finding its way again in the early 60s
with clean, well-proportioned cars like the Corvair, the Studebaker Avanti
and the Buick Riviera coupe. The 1961 Lincoln "Clap door" Continental
was Detroit styling at its most elegant.
The tailfin had all but disappeared by 1965 and even the Americans were
cleaning up their act with handsome, clean-lined, if still huge, cars.
The fuss and clutter of 50s saloon cars was being swept away by cleaner,
classier styling, boxy at worst (e.g. the Fiat 124), elegant at best.
In Europe, Bertone was a force in the mid-60s, its crowning glory the
magnificent mid-engined Miura. Bertone made waves with the Lainborghini
Espada, too, although it was cleverly conceived rather than beautiful
in the conventional sense, a big four-seater coupe with a bold, uncompromising
profile. With the introduction of the Ghia-styled Ghibli in 1965, Maserati
finally had a supercar to challenge Ferrari. Conventionally front-engined,
it was every bit as beautiful as the Miura, cleaving the air with a sharply-profiled
The Ferrari Dino 206 of 1967 was the finest-looking car Pininfarina had
launched for some time, a jewel-like mid-engined coupe that survived well
into the 70s. The 1967 NSU Ro80 was certainly the most futuristic production
saloon of the decade, its rising waistline, tall glasshouse and low prow
prophetic of aerodynamic saloons yet to come.
Jaguar proved they could still build a good-looking car with the wide,
curvy XJ6 of 1968, a classic shape that was to prove very durable: it
was still being made in 1990. The trendsetter of 1968, however, came from
Staffordshire, in the English Midlands, in the shape of the Reliant Scimitar
GTE, the first sporting estate car.
Citroen made a dramatic start to the 70s with a swoopy glass-nosed coupe
called the SM. Here was a real piece of automotive sculpture with presence
and enormous class. Fiat's classic 130 coupe was more chisel-edged, its
glass-to-steel areas perfectly balanced with wonderful detailing and fine,
Though many beautiful cars have been made since the mid-70s, it is only
when the passage of years has allowed us to see them in the context of
their time and ours that the truly classic shapes will emerge.
followed horse-carriage procedure until the 1920s – in style and
construction. With the first cars like Rolls-Royce and Bentley, the customer
chose throughout – buying first the rolling chassis from the maker,
then having it bodied in a selected style by a chosen coachbuilder.
A typical light or sporting car of the 20s would have had fabric body
panels stretched over a wooden frame – with aluminum used to form
the bonnet and wings. Notable examples were Weymann bodies and classic
Vanden Plas open-tourer bodies used on Bentleys.
when aluminium was later used for all the outer panels, the traditional
ash frame remained underneath until the advance of machine-pressed steel
panels which could be welded together. The BSA of 1912 was one of the
first cars to use this construction. Soon, it was adopted for all small
cars, leading to a standardization of body styles. But bodies were still
built separately and then mounted on to a chassis which held all the mechanicals.
Surely, it would be simpler and more efficient to build the body and chassis
as one? Vincenzo Lancia thought so and his beautiful Lancia Lambda of
1923 was the world's first monocoque passenger car. Monocoque means all
or most of the loads are taken by the car body's skin. It took a while,
however, for other makers to catch up. The VW Beetle of 1938 was a half-way
house, relying on the body being bolted on top to provide full rigidity.
It was Citroen's revolutionary front-wheel-drive Traction-avant of 1934
which popularized the monocoque. Full unitary construction, where the
chassis and body are made in one shell with openings for doors and windows,
came along with the Ford Consul in 1950. This is the way nearly all cars
have been built since.
In this construction, thin steel tubes are built up from the floorpan
or chassis, into the shape of the finished body. Aluminium panels are
then painstakingly formed by hand (rolled between shaped wheels, or beaten
over a suitable wooden former, often a section of tree stump) until they
fit the shape. They are then welded together over the frame. Most Ferraris
and Maseratis were built this way until the end of the 1950s;the Aston
Martin DB4, 5 and 6 were Superleggera cars, too.
Glass fibre (Lotus and Corvette)
Glassfibre is light and easy to work with but usually needs a separate
chassis underneath to carry all heavy mechanicals. The Lotus Elan of 1962
is a good example: the one-piece glass-fibre body of this classic small
sportscar sits over a simple Y-shaped pressed- and welded-stee1 backbone.
Originally, the Elan was intended to have a much more complicated chassis,
but designer Ron Hickman drew up the simple steel chassis as a temporary
measure so development on the rest of the car could continue. It stayed.
the first glass-fibre-bodied car was the classic Chevrolet Corvette of
Elite (glass fibre monocoque)
car has no steel in the body and chassis, except for localized strengthening.
All the stresses are taken through the one-piece (monoeoque) body and
floorpan unit. Production and budget troubles almost caused Lotus to go
under, and Chapman's next car was the more conventional Elan.
the Second World War, factories that had been used to make aircraft, aero
engines and munitions were turned back to car making. Such had been the
industry’s preoccupation with war work; however, that there was
no new car designs. If you could afford a new car, a pre-war design was
what you got, such as Ford’s Perfect, which started production in
1938. Even these were in short supply on the home market, for the Government’s
message to put the economy on its feet was “export or die.”
In Germany, production of the KdF Wagen, or “Strength through Joy”
car, which became known as the VW Beetle, had got under way again after
a faltering pre-war start. Hitler’s pre-war dream was for Germany
to make a car that every family could afford; in a shattered post-war
country; it took the British Army’s Royal Electrical and Mechanical
Engineers, under Major Ivan Hurst, to get Ferry Porsche’s inspired
design back into production in post-war Germany.
Later in the 1950s, former aircraft producer Messerschmitt made its own
idea of cheap transport for the masses, an alternative to the motorcycle,
in its KR200, a tandem two-seater with an aircraft-style canopy and a
tiny two stroke engine in the rear. Today, these cars, which look like
fighter planes on three wheels, are much prized. BMW, trying to keep its
head above water now that few of its aircraft engines were needed, tried
a different but equally humble route: the Isetta “bubble car”.
Britain thought it needed to earn money after the war with a “world
car” for export. A first all new British design was the Standard
Vanguard of 1947, intended to take on the Americans and Australians in
their markets. But the most successful export was the Land- Rover of 1948,
designed by Rover's Maurice Wilks as a farm runabout and based on a Jeep
chassis, after the Jeep he used on his farm -wore out. The Morris Minor
of the same year could have been a true world car if it had been marketed
as aggressively as the Beetle. It’s in excellent handling and spiritedly
performance guaranteed it true classic status - and it was Britain's first
million-selling car. Ford remained true to its cheap, simple, and slightly
American-influenced but refined formula first used for the monocoque-shelled;
MacPherson strutted Consul and continued with its successors through the
Rolls-Royce, having taken over Bentley1931, continued its line of separate-chassis
large saloons, its modern new Silver Cloud and sister Bentley S-Type with
classical lines by in- house stylist John Blatchley that still have commanding
In America, less badly affected by the war, car output continued unabated.
Exciting, plush new models appeared every year. Even ordinary American
passenger-car offered labour-saving convenience items that would only
be seen on luxury cars elsewhere. Citroen stunned the world with its futuristic
and technically-advanced DS of 1955, but real innovations were still around
the corner, and yet no one took Japan’s increasing interest in car
wave of post-Second World Way optimism made the mid-50s an era of exciting
new sportscars and saloons.
The “Big Healy” – the Austin Healey 100, later the 3000
– had been with us since 1952 and the Chevrolet Corvette had appeared
the next year. MG slotted its curvy new A in at sub Healey level in 1955.
Aston Martin’s fast DB2/4 had metamorphosed into the three-litre
DB MkIII by this period but was about to be superseded by 1958’s
DB4. That year along came a cheeky baby, the Austin-Healy Sprite. At first
made with no boot lid and the raised headlamps that gave it the “Frogeye”
nickname (“Bugeye” in America), this little car was mechanically
an Austin A35.
The AC Ace had been in production from 1953 and a decade later formed
the basis for one of the most infamous classics of all – the Cobra
which appeared in 1962-63.
The Morgan 4/4 reappeared in 1956. In company nomenclature, this stood
for four wheels and four cylinders, using Ford's 1172cc sidevalve engine.
Other Morgans were powered by the two-litre TR3 unit. The only significant
change was use of a cowled nose, rather than the "flat radiator"
style, from 1954.
The big Jaguar news was that the Coventry company complemented its big
MkVII saloon with an exciting new compact. Sold initially with 2.4-litre
power, it gained its claws as the MkII in 1959, with disc brakes and the
3.8-litre version of the XK straight six.
Ford's MkII Consul and Zephyr saloon arrived in 1956, essentially a slightly
larger, restyled version of the Mkl. Porsche's 356 continued to be improved
with better engines. By 1960, 125mph (201kph) was available from the exotic,
four-cam 356A Can-era.
In 1959 as American cars were getting bigger and flashier, Alee Issigonis
stunned the world with his revolutionary new Mini. Fitting four adults
into a 10-ft body shell is not easy, but he did it by exemplary packaging
- putting in the engine sideways and mounting the gearbox underneath it
so the power rain used the shortest possible space, and fitting a small,
10-in wheel at each corner.
In 1958 the first two-box design and precursor of the hatchback, the Pininfarina-styled
A40, appeared. Italian stylists were in vogue: 1959 saw the Michelotti-styled
Triumph Herald, which was to give birth to the MG Midget competitor, the
Spitfire, in 1962.
In Italy, Alfa Romeo was gearing up for true mass production with its
boxy but highly competent Giulietta Berlina. Even more exciting was the
Giulietta Sprint, styled by Bertone, a proper little GT that could run
rings around many bigger sportscars. The mainstay of Fiat production was
still the little rear-engined 500 and 600 models with a wide range of
ultra-conventional rear-wheel-drive three-box saloons, from the little
1100 through to the sharp-edged 2100 six-cylinder cars. Lancia, though
still losing money because of their obsession with tool-room standards
of engineering, produced the most significant car of 1960 - the Flavia.
Here was the first Italian car with front-wheel drive, a modern roomy
body and superbly insulated suspension.
British industry, the 1960s began successfully, but a series of mergers
and takeovers and closure of several established British car-makers left
it faltering by the decade’s end.
The years of triumph had really begun in 1959 when the Mini appeared and,
after the E-Type stunned the world at the Geneva Motor Show, other future
classics emerged. There was Chapman’s new Elan for 1962, closely
following the Mini Cooper- a whole new breed of “pocket rocket”,
or hot small car. By this time, Ford’s Cortina had also appeared;
larger than to improve handling. The Lotus Cortina quickly became the
darling of competition drivers. The cars were used successfully for racing
and rallying and still compete in historic events.
The 60s were the golden era for muscle cars in the USA. Cheap petrol meant
there was no restraint on makers shoveling more and more horsepower into
medium-sized saloons, a trend started with the Chrysler 300 series in
In Germany, NSU pioneered its futuristic new Ro80. Problems with its rotary
power unit made it an engineering blind alley but the cars, when running,
were amazingly good. Look how similar modern Audis are to that car now.
In 1962, the world saw one of the most sensual classics of all: the Ferrari
GTO. Lightweight homologation specials and the last of Ferrari’s
front-engined racers, these cars are possibly the most desirable anywhere
in the world today. Despite once being valued at up to 6 million each,
many are still racing. Slightly more affordable was the 275GTB/4 of 1966,
considered by some to be the best all-round Ferrari. Then in 1968, two
of the most important and memorable of Ferrari’s car appeared –
the heavyweight 365GTB/4 Daytona and the delicate mid-engined 246 Dino.
When the 1970s began, the British motor industry, was down to three major
players: Leylan, Rootes and Ford. By now BMC was under the control of
Leyland. Alvis had become part of Rover, which itself had been swallowed
up by Leyland and thus found itself in the same group as its old rival,
Jaguar, which had gone under the protective arm of BMC.
Elsewhere, news was brighter. The beautiful, shark-like Ferrari 308 GTB
(a Dino replacement) appeared in 1975. In Germany, BMW had taken a lead
in aerodynamics to produce one of the most classic saloon racers of all
time, the CSL. Porsche was just putting the final touches to turbo charging
its 911. But for Britain, whose industry was by now on a three-day week
and would never be the same again, all that emerged at the end of this
period was Jaguar’s disappointing XJS. 1975 was the dim end of a