Monday, 21 January 2013

Intrepid diver

The TV ad for the pillarless Ford B-Max is real. No tricksy photo-shopping. Bobby Holland-Hanton really did go head first through the 1.5metre gap of a suspended B-Max to show Life-Is-An-Open-Door. Viewers see him climbing stairs to the diving board. However he was really suspended from a crane for the stunt proper. Bobby works on Bond movies so, on this occasion, the only shooting was by the camera.

Of course, pillarless 4-doors are by no means new. They were relatively easy to make when any self-respecting Rolls-Royce or Daimler had a stout chassis to keep them from sagging when the doors were open. Their structure had the integrity of a railway carriage and your footman turned a stout handle to latch a door. One did not stoop; one preserved one’s dignity getting in or coming down.
But come cars with unitary bodies it wasn’t easy to make. Doors were getting smaller and not many were able to dispense with the B-pillar. Fiat had the pillarless Ardita in 1934, and persisted with pillarlessness until the 1100 of 1952. Triumph tried it in Britain and Licorne in France, but structures tended to wilt with age. They rattled and leaked; a middle pillar held the roof and floor together. Or apart.
MG K-types (top) came in two wheelbase lengths, 9ft, or 7ft 10-and three-sixteenths of an inch. It was not a monocoque. It had a chassis and bodywork that owed something to the ash-framing and bespoke panel-beating of the coaching era. Rods inside the doors fitted catches in the roof and floor and access was relatively easy, despite the car being barely 4ft 6in tall. A long 6-cylinder engine, even of a modest 1100cc, put a premium on passenger space, so reaching seats without dodging round a middle prop was vital. The engine was a Wolseley-derived cross-flow, you could have a Wilson preselective gearbox instead of a non-synchromesh manual, but suspension was by cart springs.

The Lancia Aprilia of 1937-1939 was a little masterpiece. All-independently sprung (sliding pillars in front, transverse leaf and torsion bar at the back) and a narrow-angle ohv V4 engine, it had hydraulic brakes and was good for 80mph. A striking looking car, some 15,000 were made before the war.
Ford’s B-Max has a rear door that slides. Mazda’s RX7 (below) has a small half rear door with a concealed handle, exact, precise graceful. It’s an ideal formula for a small, perfectly proportioned sporty car barely 4ft tall. Surprising, really, that Cecil Kimber never thought of that dinky back door.

see diver

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