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Tag Archives: Motor Cars

  • Citroën 2CV by Malcolm Bobbitt

    Different is Everything

    Anyone who has driven a Tin Snail will know this is a car unlike any other. Its corrugated appearance and propensity to lean alarmingly through bends is all part of its abandonment to conventionality. A curious creature that treats pavé and cobbles with contempt as its suspension soaks up rough surfaces, its propulsion is by a feebly powered air-cooled twin-cylinder engine that lays no claim to spirited performance.

    Early 2CVs are recognisable by their corrugated bonnets, as demonstrated by this 1954 example. (Author's collection, Citroën 2CV, Amberley Publishing)

    My acquaintance with the Citroën 2CV began in the mid-1950s when, as a nine- or ten year-old, I discovered Paris courtesy of the obligatory school visit. By then, Citroën’s minimalist miracle had been in production for not even a decade but already had become a familiar sight. Even though it was constructed at Citroën’s Slough factory it was seldom seen on this side of the English Channel. British motorists shunned it in favour of Morris Minors, Austin A30s and Standard 8s. Put off by its stark bodywork, headlights on stalks emerging from the corrugated bonnet, the pull-and-push gear lever and a hostile interior with deck chair-like seats simply missed the point when it came to social acceptance.

    The 2CV was therefore quite different to anything I’d seen in my native London, and that includes such eccentricities as Bond Minicars and Reliant Regal three-wheelers. I remember being fascinated at the way the nose-down and canvas-roofed Citroëns scuttled along, and how their loudly chattering motors echoed around the boulevards.

    Few Saharas survive, this example being sold at auction around 2015. (Author's collection, Citroën 2CV, Amberley Publishing)

    Memories of Tin Snails shuffling around Paris were reignited when visiting provincial France in later years. By then they’d vastly multiplied in numbers to become commonplace in villages and towns as well as loping along rural roads and emerging from fields. Van versions known as fourgonnettes carried baguettes, barrels of vin rouge as well as taking live animals to market.

    When it came to buying my first car my parents were aghast at learning of my desire to acquire one of those odd-looking French contraptions, which in their opinion had to be viewed with the greatest suspicion. Wouldn’t a proper car be more sensible?

    Enduring seven years of British cars and having flown the nest, a new right-hand drive Citroën Dyane 6 was purchased in March 1974. Costing a little over £800, this 2CV sibling in its posh clothing was the nearest one could get in Britain to a Deux Chevaux. Two weeks after taking delivery of the Tin Snail and comprehending its ethos, together we embarked upon an exploration of Northern France. A short time later the Gallic call was satisfied with a dash across the Channel and southwards past the Loire and Dordogne en route to the Camargue and Provence.

    Fourgonnettes were put to many uses, as illustrated by this 2CV pictured in Lisbon serving as a mobile sweet shop. (Author's collection, Citroën 2CV, Amberley Publishing)

    The yearning for a proper Deux Chevaux was fulfilled when I succumbed to an ancient and not entirely reliable left-hand drive model. Compared with the 602cc Dyane, the 1955 425cc 2CV needed a lot of persuading in order to maintain any sort of speed, at best nudging 40mph on the level. Even modest inclines were met with dramatic drops in speed, while steeper hills amassed a tailback of frustrated drivers. Patience is everything when driving an early 2CV: the windscreen wipers are driven by the speedometer cable, which means in wet weather they crawl across the glass at a pace that would leave a tortoise breathless. Instrumentation is confined to a tiny speedo and a volt meter, so in order to know how much petrol there is in the tank it’s necessary to pull up, alight from the car and check the dipstick in the fuel tank aft.

    Though my stable has housed an eclectic array of cars over the decades to include a 1947 Citroën Light Fifteen, the excesses of a 1951 Bentley and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, an early 1950s Fiat Topolino, not to mention a 1961 British-built Citroën DS, a CX and a Renault 4, it never felt right without there being a 2CV. I’ve covered vast swathes of Europe in Tin Snails, one of the most memorable expeditions being to the North Cape, Norway’s most northerly point. This was in the late 1970s when the majority of roads were unmade and ferries bridged fiords.

    One of the last examples to be built, this car - a Spécial as denoted by the plastic rather than chrome griller - is in regular use. (Author's collection, Citroën 2CV, Amberley Publishing)

    Citroën 2CV – Different is Everything – is my 32nd motoring book to have been published. My regard for the Tin Snail and the pleasurable and exciting travel various examples have afforded over the decades, and continue so to do, provided the inspiration to impart the history of this remarkable car. Originally designed to offer the most basic motoring to those people who would not have otherwise owned a motor vehicle, its character and personality never changed throughout 41 years of production. It spawned ever so slightly more classy versions such as the aforementioned Dyane, the Ami and the British designed and built Bijou, but under the skin the basic idea of the Deux Chevaux remained faithful to the concept that was born in the mid-1930s.

    Driving even a late model 2CV today is akin to being at the helm of a piece of moving history. Strangers to the car take time to understand the logic of the gear lever that sprouts from the dashboard, but the real mystery for them is the art of maintaining surprisingly high average speeds despite such minimal power. Best of all is watching them come to terms with the car’s exceptional suspension which allows it to list unbelievably when navigating twisting roads. It’s no wonder the Tin Snail induces smiles wherever it goes.

    Malcolm Bobbitt's book Citroën 2CV is available for purchase now.

  • Armstrong Siddeley Motor Cars by David Welch

    I have been interested in the history of Armstrong Siddeley cars for many years and I was delighted when Amberley invited me to write a book about the marque.  I see it as a pocket primer, there have been much longer and more detailed books in the past but what I have tried to include in my largely non-technical book is the sort of thing I might tell a friend about the marque over a drink in a bar.  I imagined my potential reader as someone who wants to have a potted history of the cars produced by Armstrong Siddeley, or perhaps someone who had a relative who worked for the company and wanted to find out a little more.

    My Hurricane on display at Bamburgh Castle. Although it is by no means pristine help from more mechanically adept friends in the club has helped to return the car to reliable running order. It completed 870 miles in eleven days without missing a beat – deep joy. (Author's collection)

    I am gratified that so many Armstrong Siddeley Owners Club members have purchased the book and with these friends in mind I have used many previously unseen photographs, including a selection from the company photographic archive that is now in the care of the Armstrong Siddeley Heritage Trust.

    That is what is in the book, but there is so much more that can never be adequately described in the written word.  I returned from an eleven day motoring holiday in my red 1950 Armstrong Siddeley Hurricane, after taking part in the Armstrong Siddeley centenary celebrations.  Getting to the start at Bamburgh in Northumberland from my home in north London was simple.  Turn left out of the road where the car is garaged and feed onto the A1, proceed on the A1 for 320 miles and then turn right to Bamburgh.  A wonderful day’s driving with the top down – if I could bottle the pleasure I would be a rich man.

    This magnificent 5 litre Siddeley Special Six is back on the road after 30 years of restoration, now just the interior needs to be completed. It was one of four of these rare models, all with different coachwork, on display at Coventry, alongside a vast collection of other cars from almost every year that the company made cars. (Author's collection)

    Highlights of the holiday included meeting descendants of the first owner of my car, meeting a wonderful group of club members from Australia and, at the static show in Coventry that marked the culmination of the event, seeing a Thrupp and Maberly bodied Siddeley Special Six back on the road after a restoration that has taken 30 years so far.  That car would certainly have been in the book if it had been finished in time for me to take some photographs.  There were many other memorable moments that will ‘flash upon that inward eye which is the bliss of solitude’.

    Car shows are a great place to meet friends and enthusiasts, but for me there is at least as much pleasure to be gained from the journey to and from events.  I am currently looking forwards to taking my car to the Isle of Wight in September for two more car shows and a few days of gentle touring around the island.

    One unexpected result of the book was an invitation to give a talk about Armstrong Siddeley cars to the Society of Automobile Historians of Britain.

    A 1934 Siddeley Special Six by Burlington. (Armstrong Siddeley Motor Cars, Amberley Publishing)

    Meanwhile I must get back to preparing the next issue of Siddeley Times, the journal of the Armstrong Siddeley Heritage Trust.  It is time consuming researching lesser known aspects of Armstrong Siddeley history, but endlessly fascinating to me and many other enthusiasts.

    When my father brought home a second hand A.S.Whitley to be the family’s everyday car in the late fifties I never imagined that the marque would turn into a lifelong hobby.  If you are contemplating entering the joyous world of classic car motoring then I would urge you to consider getting an Armstrong Siddeley, compared with many other classic cars they are marvellous value for money and the availability of spare parts from the club makes running such a car a surprisingly practical proposition.

    If you are already a member of the classic car fraternity then I wish you many happy miles of trouble free motoring in your chosen car – or cars if you have been deeply bitten by the bug.

    David Welch's book Armstrong Siddeley Motor Cars is available for purchase now.

  • Triumph 1300 to Dolomite Sprint by Kevin Warrington

    For as far back in history as I can discover, my family’s heritage has had some connection with transport; originally with horses and for the last one hundred years, what is now usually called “The Motor Trade”. Even though my own career choice took me into the high tech realms of computers, I’ve always had an interest in motor vehicles that seems to have stalled with the models from my youth and which are now cherished classic cars. Passing my driving test in 1974 at the first attempt and almost the earliest opportunity, my choice of transport was limited to the banger end of the market, but my attention was quickly drawn to some of my more affluent friends who were running models produced by Triumph. This was to be the beginnings of an enthusiasm that has now lasted for over forty years.

    The front quater view of the 1300 shows the family resemblance with the larger 2000. (Triumph 1300 to Dolomite Sprint, Amberley Publishing)

    With the aid of Hire Purchase, I stretched my apprentice’s wage to buy myself a slightly used Triumph 1300; somewhat more prestigious than the cars driven by my friends. Of course, I couldn’t afford it so the car stayed in my ownership for a very short period, but the seeds of enthusiasm for the products from Triumph were sown. Along the way, I have owned a couple of classic Triumphs from the 1970s and found myself editing club magazines which led to an approach from Amberley initially to create a book on the Triumph “big saloon” – the 2000 / 2500 (Triumph 2000 – Defining the Sporting Saloon). Clearly, Amberley were happy with the result as they were quickly back asking me for a further title. It would be a second Triumph model range and the one that had always fascinated me was the middle market 1300 which morphed into the Toledo and Dolomite, staying in production for far longer than the planners could ever have considered.

     

    With substantially more power, the Vitesse filled the market requirement for a quality two-door car, thus allowing the 1300 to focus on the four-door market. (Triumph 1300 to Dolomite Sprint, Amberley Publishing)

    Triumph as a brand and company itself is a fascinating story of sequentially grasping success from the jaws of failure and clever engineering innovation developed on a shoestring. The first iteration of the company went out of business in 1939, was rescued by the Standard Motor Co. in 1945, it nearly went bust again at the beginning of the 1960s and was rescued by Leyland Motors who were later encouraged into a mega merger with BMC to create British Leyland. And we all know how that ended.

    But the 1300 was a success story that deserves to be told. Taking a different approach to the mechanical layout for front wheel drive as defined by Alec Issigonis with his Mini and 1100 designs for Austin and Morris, Triumph employed the leading Italian stylist Giovanni Michelotti for the overall design of the car which resulted in an attractive package that sold at a premium in the market for medium sized family cars. A larger engined model was soon offered and then something most unusual happened. With the market heading towards front wheel drive, Triumph converted their car to rear wheel drive with the launch of the Toledo model.

    The convertible option was always popular. (Triumph 1300 to Dolomite Sprint, Amberley Publishing)

    In parallel, development work was taking place on a new range of engines to power Triumph models into the future. One of these was a modular four-cylinder engine that was, in essence, half of the engine that provided power for Triumph’s flagship model, the Stag. This engine was first used by Triumph in a revision of the 1300 / Toledo model range that was launched with a model name that was borrowed from Triumph’s heyday in the 1930s – Dolomite. In the background, the business was in turmoil following the British Leyland formation with Triumph managers being moved to the volume Austin – Morris division and senior staff from the former rival Rover Company taking control at Triumph. The designers knew that the new engine had the capability to develop more power and investigated ways in which to achieve this. Multiple inlet and exhaust valves had been used by other car makers to extract more power, but such installations were expensive to implement and in the case of the Triumph engine would have required extensive redesign. Instead, an ingenious solution was adopted by Triumph in the engine that would power the famed Dolomite “Sprint” model and an explanation of how this was achieved is contained in the book.

    With the model range having now long exceeded its original design life, some commentators thought the car was looking decidedly old fashioned but it continued to sell in volumes acceptable to the management. Despite a series of aborted attempts, there was no funding to provide a replacement model with the Dolomite range soldiering on to remain as one of the last Triumph designed models to be built.

    The first 2000 Dolomite Sprint cars were finished in Mimosa Yellow, a colour more usually associated with Triumph's sports car range. (Triumph 1300 to Dolomite Sprint, Amberley Publishing)

    Triumph as a brand name suggests sporting success and while one might normally consider the more overtly sporting models such as the TR or Spitfire to take the honours in this arena, the original 1300 had great success, although only for a short time, in the new sport of Rallycross but it was the Dolomite that was to gain sporting honours for Triumph both in rallying and saloon car racing.

    Triumph 1300 to Dolomite Sprint tells the whole story from a brief background on the origin of the business, the route from rescue in 1945 to the introduction of the 1300 model and the full story of the evolution into the final “Dolly Sprint” models. Lightly interwoven within the model evolution is the inevitable business politics that help to understand with hindsight the issues that confronted the British car industry during the 60s and 70s. We look at the abandoned plans to replace the model and conclude with a section on the success of the cars in motor sport. Each model type is illustrated with photographs of cars on display at various shows across the country and interspersed with reproductions of Triumph’s original press and marketing material, the motor sport section also includes a selection of images from the collection of former Triumph works driver, Brian Culcheth.

    Kevin Warrington's new book Triumph 1300 to Dolomite Sprint is available for purchase now.

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