From the first time I could remember, saloon cars have been a passion. Playing spot-the-car on a road trip was a piece of cake. By the age of six, to nail the ID of a passing car in the street just by listening to the mechanicals, dumbfounded the family. In later years came the need to get to know every car spec possible…with a particular penchant for engines. There were exceptions… I drew the line with sports cars…these machines did not make sense to me because this was 1964, and as an impressionable schoolboy the really quick saloon cars emerging from the woodwork were faster than most equivalent sportsters…..what was the point??
My first ever run in a sports car happened at the time… a bright red MGA. It was harsh as blazes and the ‘orange’ line was at 5500, the engine just sounded lazy, the exhaust note flat. Gearshifts were typically stodgy and the experience left me feeling that this was just a quicker, sleeker version of an open top Morris Minor. Wind in my hair did not wind my clock.
That view of the MGA came about largely as a result of two incidents some time earlier….firstly, a Lotus Cortina ‘moment’ and shortly after that a run in a wildly modified Cortina GT.
The Cortina incidents simply knocked the socks off the MG. Exhaust notes sounded crisp, the sidedraughts equated to motorised Mozart, rpm was up near 7 grand and gearshifts were slick ….. That was enough, this was life, there seemed to be something special about a rapid saloon car, especially if it kicked the butt of a sportster. I mean, get the mindset folks, sports cars in the early 60’s were the definition of ‘fast’… saloon cars were mom’s taxis.
Intriguingly, in the MGA experience I had felt something about the car that only many years later was able to buttonhole as an engineer, the famed ‘open top’ scuttle shake. You may rightly ask what does a 16 year old know about scuttle shake ?… I agree, nothing… but I can recall that the car just felt rattly and loose, the doors seems to have life of their own. Many years later, driving Corvette and later Nissan open top sportsters, I felt the same rattly/bendy feel, with a similar level of dislike. My passion for convertible versions of saloon cars was also dimmed somewhat, I prefer things with lids in place. They just feel better.
Two cars happened in the 60’s at around the same time…..this comparison struck a similar chord. Firstly, another MG, the 1800 MGB, a nice enough sports car and a massive improvement on the ‘A’. The second, the 1108 Renault R8 Gordini, a dinky, very ordinary looking saloon car. This is around 1964. What more compelling reason could one have to favour quick saloons in preference to sports cars? The Renault with its tiny engine was as quick…could buzz to 7500 rpm… and it had disc brakes on all four corners….magic. To me, a mechanical marvel. There was no more need for stodgy sports cars. It was in those early days that comment from well-meaning friends let me know that my upstairs wiring was a little well … different. They were right about one thing…..there was going to be much head-banging along the way. I did not seem to see the world of cars quite the same way as most.
There was no more need for stodgy sports cars. It was in those early days that comment from well-meaning friends let me know that my upstairs wiring was a little well … different. They were right about one thing…..there was going to be much head-banging along the way. I did not seem to see the world of cars quite the same way as most.