Now that the season of weekend traffic jams is getting into full swing, here are a few notes on the 1952 automobiles: —
Enough speed shops and foreign-car service stations are springing up to suggest that a fair number of Americans are finding run-of-the-mill Detroit a bore. We have learned long since that an ordinary model, the least of the line, is called “de luxe,” and that the same car becomes “custom” by the addition of a few bits of brightwork and an upholstery option or two.
We are aware too, in a torpid way, that the 1952 Farina body design of the Nash looks much like the ‘51 Chryslers, which in turn look a great deal like the ‘50 Ford. We note without rancor, but equally without mounting excitement, the vaunted dual exhausts of the new Golden Anniversary Cadillac — a feature of that car’s first V-8 1915 model. We need not gainsay the fact that Studebaker, by discontinuing its false jet propulsion frontal design, has achieved a more seemly appearance, not unlike— in simple truth—the Ford layout. Packard holds firmly to first place in length of its rear overhang.
The rest of the list has changed only slightly in appearance, although most horsepower ratings have been raised substantially.
If power steering seems costly, it is a wonderful addition all the same, especially for the big cars with their heavy tires and their parking difficulties. In heavy traffic at slow speeds, power steering is a delight, and on the open road the high gear which the added power permits makes for much greater accuracy, and the driver has the feeling of a far more precise control of his front wheels. Any misgivings about the new device are usually expressed by those who haven’t tried it out. The ordinary driver would feel at ease with it in short order, and it will undoubtedly be offered on future models of all large cars.
What the American manufacturer still denies his customers is the kind of car now re-entering the market from overseas in limited numbers: the small, lightweight, high-powered sports car for two or three occupants — a car with a low center of gravity, stiff suspension, and enough distribution of weight towards the rear wheels to ensure traction and balance.
Mention was made on this page in the January, 1949, Atlantic of such a car, the pre-war 1938-39 model produced by the Bavarian Motor Works and known as the B.M.W. Type 328. The original price of the 328 was around $2100, but one of these cars, for which the owner paid $3600 in 1950, when it was eleven or twelve years old, turned up for tuning in a Boston shop recently. “No, he won’t sell it — he’s very happy with it,” the mechanic explained. “You know” — and the mechanic grinned — “this is that same combustion chamber that Chrysler ‘inventes’ last year.”
Nash has been offering a genuine sports model, combining its own engine, a Healey (British) chassis, and Italian bodywork, at a rather stiff price — upwards of $4200 for 1951 and presumably higher for the ‘52 models — but one sees this car on the road only infrequently. Other American makers have contented themselves with displaying highly imaginative versions of “the car of the future”; these cars are not for sale, and most of us hear about them only through publicity releases and their occasional presence at a motor show. Meanwhile, the British and Continental sports models — especially those having sufficiently large engines to suit them for use in the United States — remain far too expensive for the wider market here.
Under these conditions, the flowering of the speed shop and a sizable induslry in engine equipment was inevitable, If Detroit insisted on uniformity, the speed shop was prepared to sell alternatives, and there is hardly a large eity today without solidly established resources in this field.
The main offer of these shops is additional horsepower, usually for Ford and Chevrolet engines. The main purpose of the extra power for road use is quicker acceleration. New parts for boosting engine out put have reached a point of dependability in both price and quality, and increases ranging from 10 to 60 per cent or more in the rated power of these engines can he achieved for an outlay of between $75 and $300.
The effect of 150 b.h.p. in an ordinary Ford sedan, using a 4.11 rear axle ratio and a manually controlled gearshift and overdrive, must be experienced to be believed. Even higher figures are attainable for those who are willing to put up with the crotchets of a heavily stressed engine, which tends to starting difficulties and roughness at slow speeds.
But the horsepower increase becomes unprofitable in its upper extreme because of traction loss, the failure of the rear wheels to grip the road sufficiently to transmit the extra power. This can be cured to some extent by adding weight in the rear, but the boosting process would more reasonably stop short of such complications, unless the customer intends to redesign his whole car from stem to stern.
For the experimenter who would like to go the limit, in a single stroke of boosting, there remains the liveliest — although the most expensive — choice of all: substituting for his Ford engine the Cadillac power plant (190 h.p.) or the large Chrysler unit (180 h.p.), a change which more and more speed shops are readily able to make for him nowadays. Thus equipped, and with little or no increase in the total weight of the car, the customer gains a vehicle of truly extraordinary versatility — equal in acceleration to practically anything else on the road, and capable of loafing along without stress through the whole performance range. This conversion costs around $800 for the larger engine, plus ahout $,00 for labor, although some shops will take on the job for a flat $1000 charge.
“Fifty in first, 90 in second, and an electrically timed mile at 112” was the way a mechanic summed up the Ford which he had equipped with the big Chrysler engine. But the American mechanic is always restless and pushing on to new experiments. Almost any one of them today can show you how to boost the Cadillac and Chrysler units by another 25 per cent or so.