Showing posts with label 1940s Cars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1940s Cars. Show all posts

Triumph Roadster

Triumph Roadster 1940s British classic sports car

The Triumph Roadster was a direct challenge to the Jaguar SS100. In '44, Sir John Black - owner of Standard - took over Triumph. He was keen to throw down the gauntlet to Jaguar. Over the years, Black had sold many an engine, gearbox and chassis to the automotive giant. Indeed, having Standard as a supplier played a part in Jaguar's success. There was more than a hint of table-turning, then, when Black suggested to William Lyons that he take over Jaguar, too. Lyons was having none of it. Black retreated to lick his wounds - and scour his Standard components catalogue. Already, a vision of a new Triumph was forming in his mind.

Standard knew their stuff all right. In the Second World War, they had engineered aircraft. So, it made sense for Black to use the Standard 14 engine - and its gearbox - to power his Triumph Roadster. The motor had already been modded to take an overhead-valve configuration - by Harry Weslake, no less. Measuring 1,776cc, it had also served time on the 1.5-litre Jaguar SS. More Standard parts were sourced for the suspension. Up front, the transverse-leaf independent set-up of the Flying Standard Series was co-opted. At the rear, a Standard Fourteen back-axle found another home. Not everything on the new car harked back to the past, though. There was a brand-new ladder-frame chassis, for example - made from 3½″ round-section tubing. Roadster bodywork was aluminium. It was hung on a timber frame - since there was a shortage of steel, in the wake of the War.

The Jaguar SS100 served as design template for the new Triumph. Pre-war, it was a byword for style and sophistication. Frank Callaby drew a Triumph variant on the Jaguar theme. He was inspired by the SS100's huge headlamps - and the languorous curves of its wings. For his part, John Black was adamant that a dickey-seat be fitted. The 3-plus-2 cabin was unique amongst post-war cabriolets. In '48, the Roadster had a bigger engine installed. Power increased by all of 3bhp. Plus, the new model was 36kg lighter. 0-60mph was reduced to 27.9s. The re-vamped motor was a Vanguard 'wet-liner'. It was linked to a 3-speed gearbox. The two Roadsters - 1800 and 2000 - had a combined sales tally of just 4,501. So, Sir John Black's dream of supplanting Jaguar had not materialised. The Triumph Roadster will never be spoken of in the same hushed tones as the Jaguar SS100. Even so, it was a dynamic, attractive addition to the British sports car roster.

Bristol 401

Bristol 401 1940s British classic car

The Bristol 401 showed off the Aerodyne body shell. It was the work of Italian design house Touring. As its name suggested, aerodynamics were the name of the game. The 401's Aerodyne lines - and 'teardrop' tail - flowed through air with minimal resistance. Indeed - years after its production run ended - there were few cars that could match the 401's aerodynamic package. Aptly, then, the car was developed at an airport. Specifically, along the two-mile stretch of the Filton runway - in Bristol, England. Tests measured it travelling at a tad shy of 100mph - powered by a two-litre, 85bhp engine. Not much to play with, given that the 401 was a four-seater saloon car - with plenty of interior trim. Clearly, aerodynamics were playing a pivotal part in that 100mph top speed stat. Saying that, it was no ordinary motor it was using. Bristol had 'borrowed' the engine from BMW - as part of Germany's First World War reparations. As far as the 401's 'slipperiness' went, low wind noise - and 25mpg fuel economy - were more than welcome by-products.

With regard to the 401's shape, the same degree of rarefied design found its way into other aspects of the car, too. The body panels, for example, were graded for thickness - according to function. Thus, those that made up the wings were more meaty. Mechanics liked that - it was something solid for them to lean against! The 401's four-speed gearbox was all slick engineering. Its steering-wheel, too, was exquisitely crafted. Complete with its 'banana' spoke, it mimicked the one found in Bristol aircraft, of the time.

The 401, then, was a gift to design students - many of them born years after the end of its run. Bristol's stylists and coachbuilders were a rare breed indeed. If you had used the phrase 'built-in obsolescence' to them, they would have been seriously confused. Not because they were stupid - but, because it simply would not have occurred to them to think in that way!

Austin A90 Atlantic

Austin A90 Atlantic 1940s British classic car

If ever there was a car which straddled two countries, it was the Austin A90 Atlantic. Both Austin and Pontiac emblems adorned the A90's bonnet/hood. Built in Longbridge, England, it was one of the cars which blazed a trail out of the post-Second World War slump. The Atlantic was the first British car built primarily for the American market. In hindsight, its trans-oceanic mission was doomed from the outset. Stateside, they were used to 6- and 8-cylinder engines. So, the A90's 4-pot tally simply did not cut the mustard. The writing was on the wall when an Atlantic broke 63 stock-car records, at Indianapolis - in a week. Sales still did not pick up. Sadly, this was a case in which the American Dream just was not going to come true!

As the Atlantic's foray into stock-car racing had proved, it did not lack for performance. Indeed, the A90 was one of few post-war cars capable of 90mph. It was practical, too. When the A90 was launched - in '48 - petrol was still being rationed. So, the Atlantic's frugal fuel consumption - 25mpg - was a valuable commodity. Its in-line four motor made 88bhp. Hence, the car's code-name - when rounded up to 90. Peak power kicked in at 4,000rpm. Top torque - 140lb/ft - arrived at 2,500rpm. Four speeds could be selected on the American-style steering-column gearshift.

7,981 Atlantics were built. Of those, a mere 350 made it to America. The A90 had taken the '48 Earls Court Motor Show by storm. Austin must have been sure they had backed a winner. Especially, since the convertible model came with all mod cons. As well as the power-hood and -windows, the A90 boasted an Ecko radio, adjustable steering-wheel and heater. As early as '51, though, it was the end of the road for the convertible. The saloon followed suit in '52. And that was it for the Atlantic. For all of the 'special relationship', there are some things the UK and US do differently. The Austin A90 Atlantic was, in many ways, an admirable British automobile. But - to crack the States - four cylinders were just never going to be enough!

Hudson Commodore

Hudson Commodore 1940s American classic car

Founded in 1909, Hudson was a middling motor car manufacturer. Up until '48, that is. Which is when their Step Down models were launched. Overnight, Hudson became a byword for 'cool'. Even the bottom-of-the-range Pacemaker was sought-after. The Commodore was coveted!

Hudson's design department had worked overtime. Either that, or something had suddenly clicked. The curves of the Commodore's bodywork revealed a new set of shapes. They would dominate car styling through the Fifties. In particular, the Commodore's 'low-rider' profile was ahead of the game. It was enabled by Monobilt - a unitary-construction process Hudson had developed. The Commodore's floor-pan was beneath the chassis. So, occupants literally 'stepped down' into the cabin. But, Monobilt was more than merely pleasing on the eye. It was safer, too. Passengers were surrounded - and, indeed, protected - by a robust perimeter frame.

As 6-seater saloon cars go, the Commodore was pretty quick. The 8-cylinder engine version produced 128bhp. That made it good for 93mph. Half a million Commodores were duly sold. But - sadly for small car companies - the automotive sharks were circling. Firms like Hudson were small fry, compared to the bigger fish in Detroit's pool. With Ford, GM and Chrysler as rivals, it had always been on the back foot. In '54, Hudson bowed to the inevitable and merged with Nash - simply to stay afloat. By then, though, it had had its day in the sun. Hudson's Step Down cars - most notably, the Commodore - were stylish, functional, fast and safe. What was not to like?

Cisitalia 202

Cisitalia 202 1940s Italian classic sports car

The Cisitalia 202 has been on display in NY's Museum of Modern Art since '51. Innovative styling, then, was a given. That came courtesy of Pininfarina - based in Turin, Italy. Their coachbuilding concept was 'integration'. Features flowed into each other, as never before. Front mudguards and headlights, for instance, bled seamlessly into the front wings. In a few strokes of 'Pinin' Farina's pen, automotive design had moved on.

In terms of the 202's form, then, things were just fine. But functionally, too, it excelled. A solid round-tube frame supported 'slippery' bodywork. The car cut through air like a scalpel. As a result, it was good for 105mph ... 120, in competition mode. All from just 50bhp - and a tuned in-line four Fiat 1100 motor. A 4-speed transmission eased the 202 up to such speeds.

Pininfarina's input finessed the fine detail. Flip-out door handles were a typical flourish. The 202's cabin was a paragon of minimalism - and safety. No redundant, distracting dials here. On the 202's launch - in '46 - Cisitalia was still a new company. Short for 'Consorzio Industriale Sportive Italia', it was founded by Piero Dusio. He was a businessman/racing driver. Cisitalia's first specialist product was a single-seater racer. Built by Fiat engineers Giacosa and Savonuzzi, it would subsequently serve as a template for the cars that followed. Sadly - just a year after the 202's release - Cisitalia was already in trouble. Boss Dusio already hankered after a GP car, to be designed by Porsche. That did not sit well with his fledgeling firm's finances. By '63, it was over. As car companies go, then, Cisitalia was a flash in the pan. The 202, though, burned brightly - not least, as an exhibit at MoMA. A mechanical masterpiece, it lit up the car world for years!

Tucker Torpedo

Tucker Torpedo 1940s American classic car

The Tucker Torpedo came out of left field. Its designer - Preston T Tucker - was a confirmed maverick. Cars were in his blood. He started out at Cadillac - as an office boy. After a stint as a car salesman, he became a partner in an Indianapolis motor racing business. In '45 - with the War over - Tucker determined to create the ultimate car. Style and speed would come as standard. But, there would be more.

When it came to 'health and safety' - especially of the automotive kind - Tucker was an evangelist. Maybe it was a war thing. In the last few years, an ocean of blood had been shed. Perhaps Tucker had seen enough - and decided to redress the balance a bit. To that end, the Torpedo would have seat-belts. A padded dashboard and pop-out windscreen, too. Where accident prevention was concerned, Tucker dreamed big. But - as the Torpedo entered production - the real world kicked in. As in the 'bottom line'. Customers were concerned about seat-belts. Why did the car need them, they asked. The marketing men got jitters. Seat-belts were subsequently binned. Along with swivelling headlights, disc brakes and the central driving position. In the end, Tucker settled for independent suspension. Oh, and the padded dashboard!

To be fair to Tucker, he was right to be anxious. After all, the Torpedo could certainly shift. Its flat-6-cylinder engine gave 166bhp. Top speed was 121mph. Rear-mounted - and water-cooled - the motor was bleeding edge. '47 saw the launch of the Torpedo's final model. Just a year before, Tucker had bought the world's biggest factory. The new premises - in Chicago - had been an aircraft plant. But, a problem was looming. Tucker was accused of fraud. He had - it was alleged - tampered with the Torpedo's design. Having already signed contracts. Tucker pleaded with the industry - categorically denying the claims. But - though he was cleared in court - mud stuck. Shortly thereafter, The Tucker Corporation filed for bankruptcy. It was a sad finale to so much idealism. Preston T Tucker's Torpedo was built to save lives - not end them!