Eric Dymock on Cars: 1992: 100 Best Cars, Motoring Columns & Road Tests

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Two Litres was once fine for a high quality sports car The Times: Tuesday 19 October, When production of the DB7 starts in April, it will mark an astonishing come-back, after nearly two decades in which the rest of the motor industry virtually wrote it off.


Most of the DB7s planned for the first year's production are already sold after the car's spectacular debut at the Geneva motor show this spring. Now, Aston Martin is expanding its sales network, confident that the North American market will enable it to double production to a year. It hardly matters that the car is essentially a design shelved by Jaguar; it has brought Aston Martin back into the automotive mainstream. It looks every inch a thoroughbred, and after development by a team which includes former world champion Jackie Stewart and formula 1 team taskmaster Tom Walkinshaw, it has brought Aston Martin back into the mainstream.

Stewart started his racing career thirty years ago in an Aston Martin DB4GT, but when Ford took over the company in September , production Astons still bore it an uncomfortable resemblance.

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Ford invited Walter Hayes, one-time confidant of Henry Ford and a motor industry veteran, to bring Aston Martin up to date. A first-class opportunist, Hayes identified a role for Aston Martin within the Ford empire, as well as one for himself running it after he stopped being a Ford vice-president. He needed fresh minds, and hand-picked a new team. He also knew he could never create a new car in the old cramped works at Newport Pagnell. A key appointment to the board was Tom Walkinshaw, who had set up JaguarSport to make Jaguar XJs in a roomy, modern purpose-built plant with room for expansion at Bloxham near Oxford.

XJ was planned with a limited life, Jaguar with a half-share in Bloxham was now owned by Ford, so the pieces of the jigsaw began to fit together. A consultant to Ford since his racing days, Stewart protested at first. Aston Martin's history was punctuated by financial crises and changes of ownership.

Until Ford took over, its only consistent feature was the production of fine sports cars. Astons were always at a premium, highly priced, highly prized, and exquisitely made. Lionel Martin made the first one in with Robert Bamford, and coined the name from a hill-climb course at Aston Clinton in Buckinghamshire.

It had an undistinguished 1. Production of a 1. In a racing programme led to adventurous overhead cam engines and lightweight chassis. There was an optimistic showing of Aston Martins at the Olympia Motor Show in , but within weeks the company was in trouble. Aston Martin was unable to pay its way. Success on the track, alas was not matched by sales. Following another financial crisis in the early s, the Bertelli regime collapsed, and R G Sutherland took control. He inaugurated sports cars such as the 80hp Ulster of , and the mph Speed Model, as notable for their striking appearance as their stirring performance.

Sutherland's Aston Martins were archetypal sports cars with cycle-type wings, pointed tails, and spartan open two-seater bodywork. In Aston Martin, integrated with Lagonda, became part of the engineering empire of David Brown, the tractor manufacturer, once again leading to outstanding cars. W O Bentley supervised the design of a 2. After the new 2. A vigorous racing programme brought Aston Martin the world sports car championship in , and first and second in the 24 Hours race at Le Mans. But in the s the luxury car world was thrown into turmoil by successive oil crises, sales failed to cover the substantial cost of making quality cars largely by hand, and Aston had once again to be saved.

This time the staunchly patriotic Victor Gauntlett re-established it, making Aston fit enough to attract the major shareholding by Ford. Aston Martin had no new product programme and its future looked doubtful. The way forward was to see what common components could be obtained from within Ford, which included Jaguar. It emerged as the DB7, a classic 3. The old works at Newport Pagnell was left to carry on making new versions of the existing cars.

It has been modernised, but by and large the cars are hand-finished much in the way they always were. Jackie Stewart has not forgotten the kind of car he raced in the early s. Wood facia nothing new for an Aston Martin. Aston Martin , Motoring columns. Tuesday, 25 January Kylie and Kars. Kylie Minogue likes cars but she has moved up-market.

She was pictured with the production StreetKa roadster to provide a preview before it went on sale in She has the energy, style and popular public profile that will re ach directly to customers new to the Lexus brand. The Sunday Times once ran a series, which ran alongside my motoring column, on Stars and Cars. They had not chosen them. They drove round free in those secretly on loan from manufacturers and then gushed about them like Corporate Press Releases. Monday, 24 January Magnificent Minis.

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Discovering Western governments earned more from a gallon of petrol than they did, OPEC turned off the taps in the s. We are now in another and more complicated oil crisis where a litre of petrol costs 42p to make. But 82p goes in fuel duty and VAT, so the imbalance remains. Prices are high and likely to remain so. The first oil crisis was in , when the Suez adventure led to bubble cars and inspired the Mini.

Rumours have resurfaced about BMW going back to basics with a real mini, smaller than the premium-priced quirky, big Mini it has been making since As I speculated in The Sunday Times in this would not be easy. Well-intentioned safety laws might make it impossible, unless a great deal has been learned in the last twenty years about crash-engineering small cars. Click to enlarge, or read original copy below You can understand why Leonard Percy Lord , 1st Baron Lambury , the rough-tongued BMC executive prompted Alexander Arnold Constantine Issigonis to create the shortest practical 4-seater of all time.

It is tempting to restore a Mark I Mini, not one of the later ones with wind-up windows and soft furnishings but a sliding-window one, with elbow room and huge door pockets. Even with an old engine, perhaps amended with fuel injection instead of a carburettor, it would use very little fuel. The old Mini was surely the most space-efficient car ever. Of course early Minis were badly made; mine leaked terribly on account of the underbody seams facing the direction of travel, scooping up rainwater and soaking the carpets. Never mind the charm, the astonishing cornering power, and the pert appearance a born-again Mini would be noisy without a lot of sound-deadening and not very quick.

The driving position was truly awful. Issigonis believed it was good, keeping drivers alert and awake. Yet for sheer practicality the BMC Mini was, and remains, matchless. Four seats, generous legroom, a decent boot and large door pockets. Issy maintained one held the ingredients for perfect picnic cocktails — four bottle of gin and one of Vermouth. What more do you need? Well-meaning safety laws are making cars bigger than they need be and inhibiting improvements to one of Britain's best-loved cars.

Rover cannot tamper with the design of the Mini, even to make it safer, without invoking rules which would reclassify it as a new model and subject to a fresh bout of crash-testing which it could not pass. Instead, the car which provided economical transport to generations of British motorists, remains noisy unrefined and relatively expensive. Sir Alec Issigonis's formula for the smallest car with four practical seats is as good now as it was when it came out thirty-two years ago.

The Mini is ten feet long, four and a half feet tall and four and a half feet wide, on a wheelbase of exactly 80 inches. Eighty per cent of the space is given over to the occupants and their luggage, and the mechanical bits are squeezed into a compartment only two feet long. Never was a car packaged better. The inch long Mini remains the shortest realistic four seat car made; the Lancia Y10 is over a foot longer, the Metro more than a foot and a half, while the most recent Japanese city car the Mazda is a giant of inches.

The Mini already meets emission control laws and thanks to astute work by Rover technicians, fuel injection will be announced in October for the Mini Cooper.

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This will allow it a catalytic converter to comply with legislation due at the end of Yet the safety regulation hurdle remains. Every major manufacturer in the world followed Issigonis's example, adopting front wheel drive and sideways-mounted engines, with an alacrity that surprised even him. Yet the Mini was almost allowed to wither on the bough; it was neither properly developed nor commercially exploited, and although Rover still makes 40, a year and production recently passed 5,,, it is now technically in arrears.

Four seated people take up much the same space now as they did thirty years ago and the advantages of a small easily parked car remain convincing. The small-car market must expand as pressure on road space grows and demand for fuel economy increases. Yet it remains dominated by large super-minis, many of them oriental, and none a match for the Mini in compactness. An old motor industry aphorism that mini cars generate mini profits inhibited European manufacturers. Certainly small cars cost almost as much to make as large cars; they are not made in small factories, by small numbers of people or cheap machines, and cost much the same in materials and energy.

Yet Mini sales remain healthy enough to sustain production, even though the car has not had a development programme such as the Volkswagen Beetle enjoyed. A strong demand remains for an updated s Mini which retaining the 10 x 4. The Volkswagen, still being produced in Mexico after a production run of over 20 million, maintains the shape and size and broad specification of the car that Hitler sanctioned sixty years ago. The rear-engined air-cooled philosophy may be the same but there is not a single interchangeable component. A s Mini would keep Issigonis's ideals intact and would not need to be altered much beyond a quieter engine.

Computer-aided design, which was not available to Issigonis who briefed his draughtsmen by means of free-hand sketches, could make the Mini lighter and keep it cheap. Perhaps the turned-out body seams could be smoothed off and the rear opened up to make a hatchback. But any important alteration would spring the trap of legislation which allows Rover to go on producing the old car, but prevents it being brought it up to date. Caption Minis have had the roof chopped off and been made into convertibles before, but it has taken thirty two years for one to be officially approved.

Once the roof is removed the body needs reinforcement under the floor to make sure it does not sag in the middle. Back to the Future , Mini. Thursday, 20 January Alice's Adventures. But rather like egalitarian schools that run sports days with no losers, the IAM is missing the point.

Today it launched Momentum: Momentum does not involve an exam and there is no risk of failure. Advanced drivers have a certain cachet. Hand out stars for better driving. More information on www. Detroit Motor Show Monday, 17 January "One Professional Driver". Grand plans invite scepticism. Sounds like a recipe, when he falls asleep or wants to read his own newspaper, of an accident like a train crash.

Click to enlarge, or read original copy below Wednesday, April 26, Prometheus, a pan European research and development programme now in its third year looks like getting into the driving seat by the end of the Century. Cars under electronic control could travel at miles per hour, closer together and in great safety. I envisage motorways where the control of the vehicles is taken over by the road," says the inventive Sir Clive. Everyone was satisfied with it. Yet within a short time, computers and communication systems had brought about a change from independent typewriters to interlinked word processors, and conquered the market.

Phase 2 brought integrated circuits and microprocessors which started to link components together. This included electronic engine controls, instruments, and anti lock brakes, now familiar to many drivers. Phase 3 began in the mid s, in which we will see the total integration of vehicle electrical and electronic systems. Rivard puts it another way, "The skills required in handling an automobile are, in some cases, beyond the capacity of the average driver.

The advances in steering, braking, and suspension technology during Phase 3 will allow him to employ the full performance potential of the vehicle even in exceptional situations like avoiding accidents. Approaching a parked lorry at night or in fog, the driver will be alerted to the danger of collision. Before the invention of anti lock brakes ABS he would have put the brakes on, or swerved by himself. Now the car can do the job better than the most skilled driver, and on the Sinclair motorway, will apply its own brakes. The same applies to unwise overtaking.

On board computers calculate the speed of the lorry ahead, the speed of the car overtaking, decide there is danger of an accident, and over rule the driver's decision to pull out. Research chiefs such as Professor Dr Ing. Ulrich Seiffert of VW see measures of this sort as a solution to the problem of congestion on motorways. The winter weather provided some extra testing of cameras and communication equipment. With the combined skills of its participating companies, SARTRE is making tangible progress towards the realisation of safe and effective road train technology".

Safer and more convenient Vehicle platooning, as envisaged by the SARTRE project, is a convoy of vehicles where a professional driver in a lead vehicle drives a line of other vehicles. Each car measures the distance, speed and direction and adjusts to the car in front. All vehicles are totally detached and can leave the procession at any time. But once in the platoon, drivers can relax and do other things while the platoon proceeds towards its long haul destination. The Sunday Times headline about a new function for radio, by the way, was for a system that switched car radios, without warning, from the national network or frivolous entertainment to local traffic information.

Back to the Future. Sunday, 16 January AC Cobra. The electronic time trap credited me with mph. It was and it felt quick. The following week I met Sanderson by chance, outside Harrods. I knew him through my association with Ecurie Ecosse and he suggested AC might lend the car for test. We did just short of mph, about On the Le Mans axle it was doing mph on Mulsanne at 5,rpm, or around 29mph per rpm, so had it been able to pull 6,rpm with its rather blunt aerodynamics, that would be mph. On the fresh axle ratio, even at 7,rpm, mph at MIRA was more likely than , so discretion suggested that the figure be excluded from the feature.

MIRA had a second electronic time trap on the road course, inside the banked outer circuit, on which you could go faster before braking hard for the next corner. Perhaps the slide-rulers at The Motor they were usually precise were not perverse to rob me of my mph but that assumes, of course, that all the other calculations were right. When AC stopped making cars in , they were using an engine already 20 years old.

Production resumed in with the same engine in a saloon not long for the automotive mainstream. There was little to distinguish it from s counterparts, except that the headlamps had sunk into the wings and the grille curled over. So long as cars remained in short supply it held its own. Traditionally a sports car manufacturer, AC wanted to make 2-seaters so engaged John Tojeiro whose sports cars were doing well in British racing.

The shape of the AC Ace was cribbed, without much alteration and certainly no acknowledgement, from a contemporary Ferrari Barchetta. The chassis was simple, a frame of two 3in diameter tubes and independent suspension both ends. The frame was stiff and the handling exemplary; still good in the s after nearly had been made. The Ace was a classic, the Ace-Bristol spectacular but in Bristol stopped making the engine. A modified Ford Zephyr pushrod, of bhp, scant refinement and great weight was unsatisfactory.

The first Cobra prototype of was basically an Ace chassis altered to take a Ford V-8, with wider tyres and body modifications to cope with more than twice the horse power of the Zephyr. For sheer bravura, nothing could match it. The standing quarter-mile took under 13sec. The V8 made immense demands on the chassis, and changes were wrought, starting with rack and pinion steering. Like many carry-over designs of the s the Ace continued using drop-arms and drag links, until the tendency of rack and pinion to lock-up at inconvenient moments was curbed.

Racer who lived in the fast lane

The Cobra's suspension was changed, coil spring and damper layouts with wishbones replacing transverse leaf springs. Cobras went under a lot of names. AC provided it with a Frua body and called it simply the , a stylish but unsuccessful model that formed the sole AC exhibit at the London Motor Show long after production effectively stopped. The Cobra was probably the most copied, most replica-ed sports car ever.

And when I see 39PH I bask briefly, just a little, in some of its glory. Classics , Le Mans. Thursday, 13 January Production gets under way.

The first Land Rovers preserved the war time Jeep's 80 inch wheelbase. Following a pre-production run of 50 in , Rover expected to make fifty or so a week for a year or two, making up for materials shortages that had reduced car production. It ran machinery from a power take-off designed into the transmission.

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The squared-off body was strong and cheap to make from aluminium. The NSX can crawl along in traffic making no more noise than a small Rover, then accelerate to mph, reaching over 8,rpm in the gears and sounding every bit the thoroughbred. Honda felt no obligation to compete with Ferrari and Porsche for the apprehensions of the.

This is the V10 engine of an R8's well finished and illuminated engine compartment. Instead Honda made it their business to win grand prix races; it was the only way to convince the fastidious buyer that is more than a match for Ferrari or Cosworth or anybody else. Honda won the world championship more convincingly than anybody has since the days of Mercedes-Benz.

The NSX may never attract the traditional Ferrari or Porsche customer who will not regard it in the same designer-label style. No matter, the NSX is perfectly capable of creating its own new market among people who would never buy a fractious Ferrari or a too-precious Porsche in any case. Wednesday, 14 October Motorway driving. This has nothing to do with motorway driving. For the most part the driving was not bad. White Van Man now drives Sprinters at mph in the outside lane but except for an articulated truck crossing my path while the driver dived for his Yorkie Bar, or fell asleep, it was pretty well without incident.

Biggest nuisance was the undertaker, left-side traffic stealing through, then pulling in front. One white van passed on the left, swerved over to the outside lane, dodging from lane to lane in a frantic and dangerous bid to get ahead. It made no sense, and made law-abiding drivers wonder where the traffic patrols were. So what was I doing in the middle lane when there was overtaking space on the left? I like to set the cruise control to an indicated 80mph, that is 77mph for the 10 per cent the law allows, plus a couple of mph to take account of the flatter most speedometers have.

At this speed the middle lane of the motorway is comfortable, flyers can fly by on the outside, trucks trundle along on the inside. Everybody, you would think, would be happy. Self-appointed guardians of the Highway Code, which says in effect you should always pull over to the left, come up behind at 85mph and make a great display of swerving out to overtake, flash indicators and point leftwards in rebuke.

It is never clear exactly what they are mouthing but it seems like indignation. People get shirty if the left lane is unoccupied and there is much flashing of lights, but I am too old and dignified for road rage, and let them get on their high blood pressure way. I take the view that smooth consistent and predictable behaviour is far better on the motorway or anywhere else than dashing from side to side.


Far too often on motorways you see strings of cars bunched needlessly in the right hand lane queuing up to pass a few people drifting along in the centre lane. Unnecessary lane changing can make accidents. Driving experts disapprove of Slow Lane, Middle Lane, and Fast Lane; the outside one is the Overtaking Lane but in theory if the Middle Lane is occupied by 70mph traffic nobody should be overtaking anyway.

The safest roads are those on which all the traffic is doing the same speed. If everybody is bowling along at 50 or 60 or 70 nobody is going to be taken by surprise and leave those lurid skid marks that mean somebody has had a heart-stopping moment or worse. Consistency, changing lane as seldom as possible, and constant monitoring of the mirror are the recipe for motorway safety. Perching me high on an antique racing car, with the wind in my face, convinced me of the fortitude of drivers in the heroic age of motor sport. I managed it for several miles; they battled it out on dusty gritty roads in the searing heat of a scorching summer, literally up hill and down dale, for two whole days.

The French Grand Prix at Le Mans was no hour-and-a-half sprint by Schumachers and Alonsos, cocooned in fire-proof clothing, and strapped into fat-tyred roller skates. They reached mph, bounced perilously on bone-jarring ruts in the compacted clay surface, scarcely easing up on stretches of railway sleeper roads by-passing villages along the 64 mile course. Then as now, team managers were up to technical tricks. The jantes amovibles were fitted to the back wheels since they wore out faster. Instead of cutting off the worn-out smoking remnants of the old tyres with knives and forcing on new ones, Szisz and Marteau undid eight nuts, and put on a ready-inflated tyre and rim.

After a second day, despite a last lap nursing a broken spring, they won by half an hour. Renaults moreover had the first double-acting hydraulic dampers ever used on a racing car, not only for comfort and controllability, but also to spare the tall, narrow and vulnerable tyres. British carmakers had been suspicious of the French Grand Prix. The Petit Parisien confirmed their doubts about its sporting nature, when it said: The British thought the contest would be rigged, so left it to Germany and Italy to enter three teams of three cars, challenging 25 from ten French manufacturers. The race was known simply as The Grand Prix; there was no other.

The title meaning big prize, had already been used for the Grand Prix de Pau on 17 February , but it was not applied to anything else until the s. The doubts of the British in were by no means ill founded. The Entente Cordiale had been signed barely two years earlier, but the French motor industry was the biggest in the world, its members formed the nucleus of the ACF, and they had been frustrated by the rules of the Gordon Bennett Cup, the first attempt at international motor races.

This specified one team per country, which seemed unfair to the French, because they had more manufacturers than anybody else. Prompted by the industry that formed the bulk of its membership, the ACF proposed teams for its Grand Prix, entered by make rather than country.

The big crankshaft, with pistons the size of biggish teapots, turns only at between 1,rpm and 1,rpm, yet pulls with the low-speed strength of a steam engine. Changing gear is ponderous, accomplished with a certain amount of clunking and heaving of the big lever, even in the practised hands of owner German Renault dealer Wolfgang Auge. It then passed to mining millionaire Robert Guggenheim, before coming to Britain before the first world war for Lord Kimberley, famous surgeon Sir Harold Gillies, then collector Marcus Chambers of Clapham.

The value of all old racing cars collapses when they are no longer eligible for competition, and Chambers later the motor sport manager of the British Motor Corporation BMC , bought it at the bottom of its cycle. It is now almost priceless. The course of the race is easily followed. Commentary , Events , Renault.

Buxton and Crich Tramway Museum. The Capri is typically well-maintained. Crews confer, Crich Tramway Museum Curious to drive with such a narrow-rimmed steering wheel. Was it somehow fashionable then? I remember Rolls-Royces had them. Steering wheels are now fat and chunky following the style set by racing cars of the s. You stop looking for a fifth after a time. No rev counter and a plain facia of plastic-looking wood. The windows have a novel system for disappearing into the doors — a handle that you wind round and round.

Amazingly simple and effective.

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No electric motors to go wrong. Comfortable seats but no head restraints. I was glad nobody ran into us from behind. Good quality materials for carpets and facia although a lot of black made it look a bit gloomy. Heavy steering at parking speeds was hard work. Engine tolerably quiet and visibility good with narrow screen pillars.

The ride was even and showed no sign of aging with effective dampers. What a commendably good-value classic; the Capri looks the part and people certainly look at it and smile. The L was fairly basic with cloth and leathery-looking upholstery. Ruth remembered to hold the handle up when you shut the door — just the way you used to lock yourself out of a car with the key inside. Wheels typically Ford painted to look like alloy or Rostyle. The bodywork has lasted amazingly well. Splendid radio with buttons that went straight to Radio 4 on long wave and never varied wherever you were.

Absence of airbags makes an airy interior. Vinyl roof is a big fashion statement — hangover from Riley RM and others that looked like faux convertibles but only had them to conceal bad presswork and ugly joints. They had a lot to learn about shut-lines in — you could get your fingers down the sides of the bootlid, although the water channelling was good and nothing leaked even on this 32 year old car. From The Ford in Britain File: Folding down the rear seat gave huge luggage capacity.