Monday, 4 February 2013

Pedestrian Passengers


So, patsy hacks have tested the Jaguar F-type from the passenger’s seat. It really won't do. Jaguar’s step-by-step PR will be successful because there is so much interest in the car. Giles Smith of The Sunday Times and Jamie Merrill of the Independent on Sunday could scarcely say no to the invitation. “Come to the Gaydon test track,” it trilled, “you can look and ride in but not drive.” I had invitations to be driven by show-off test drivers and invariably turned them down. Sometimes a manufacturer didn’t want to risk a bad report. Sometimes it only had the one car. I would not imagine this applies at Jaguar. It just wants to raise awareness while production gets (maybe slowly) under way.


I went to the Gaydon test track in 1968 for British Leyland tests, principally for the Austin 3 Litre and the MGC. The Austin felt designed by the truck division, even though its code-name ADO61 made out it had come from the Austin Drawing Office. It rolled and wallowed on corners and was ungainly, badly proportioned and clumsy. Cash strapped Leyland couldn’t afford a fresh set of doors so it used those of the 1800. In fact almost the entire centre section was ADO17 except for a huge transmission tunnel. ADO17 was transverse-engined and front wheel drive. ADO61 had a 3 litre C-series 7-bearing engine in-line under the long bonnet, driving the rear wheels. It had independent suspension with trailing arms at the back and Hydrolastic interconnected springing. Self-levelling pressurised by an engine-driven pump added to the complication.


Poor Raymond Baxter, who had taken over as director of motoring publicity, had an impossible job. Lugubrious was all you could call it. BL introduced a Morris 1300 Mk2 and some Mini options at the same event, as well as the MGC. This suffered, like the 2 Litre and most BL creations of the time from understeer which, as the late Jeff Daniels who crops up in several of my pictures described it, “of a most determined kind”. I re-tested an outgoing MGC later, modified by University Motors, from which a lot of the understeer had been banished and it was not at all a bad car.


Neither the MG, billed as a replacement for the big Austin-Healey, not the Austin 3 Litre survived long. Symptomatic of BL indecision, the Austin was designed with twin headlamps, but pre-production focus groups thought the car so ugly they were replaced by the rectangular ones in my pictures. By the time production began the twins were reinstated. Three years and 10,100 cars later the awful Austin was quietly dropped, unmourned. A smart test driver at Gaydon might have been able to disguise the understeer. I drove it and was able to warn readers in time.


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