The tradition of a genuine car launch at a motor show is now something of the past – the internet finally closed it down some years and most launches are preceded by a concept, which itself was preceded by “scoop” photos and articles in print and on line. But back in 1948, it was different, as this silent black and white video and these photos show
It was also different for another reason – 1948 was the first London motor show after the war, and whilst chocolate was still rationed, new cars launches seemingly were not. And we were in for a bumper crop, with three designs truly standing the test of time. As the people born at the same time reach the UK’s retirement age, let’s relive the excitement of the 1948 London Motor Show with a review of some of the highlights and see which stood the test of time, culminating in my favourite of the three truly enduring star cars.
Austin A90 Atlantic
The Austin Atlantic was Austin’s attempt at capturing the American market for what became the personal coupe – you only have to look at the styling to see that. Also, you only need to look at the styling to also determine that not everyone was going to fall for it either – features like 3 headlamps, curved windscreen using flat glass pieces butted together, flying A for Austin emblems on the wings and covered rear wheels were all intended to appeal to American tastes, even if was a stereotyped interpretation of it. It was not a commercial success, and less than 5% of those built (fewer than 8000 in 4 years) were actually sold in America.
It was offered as a convertible or as closed hardtop, with a 2660cc 4 cylinder engine, later used in the Austin Healey.
£824, £21500.00 adjusted
Hillman Minx MkIII
This was a car to two parts – a very conventional monocoque construction with a carry over 4 cylinder side valve, 1185cc engine but with a new body that was the first full width style from Rootes and also set the tone for Rootes to follow American styling trends for the next 30 years. It was a key part of the Rootes Group model range and was soon joined by similarly styled, but larger, cars under the Humber brand, such as the 1949 Hawk.
Yours for £505, £13000.00 adjusted
Sunbeam-Talbot 80 and Sunbeam-Talbot 90
Rootes also showed a new Sunbeam-Talbot range, the 80 and more powerful 90, of sporting saloons and convertibles, which would be the last Sunbeam-Talbots, before the Talbot name was dropped. The 80 had an OHV version of the Mix’s 1185 cc engine whilst the 90 had a 1944 cc Humber, also a 4 cylinder, with the increased performance to match. These cars were a class above the Minx, being aimed at the sports saloon market occupied by brands like Triumph and Rover, and with bodies by the traditional coach building firm of Thrupp and Maberly, by then part of the Rootes empire.
The saloon featured a “pillarless” join between the glass on the rear door and the rear quarter window. The convertible, in particular, will always get a good audience at a classic car show.
From £889 to £1055, £23000 to £27000 adjusted
Vauxhall Wyvern and Velox
These cars, twins except for the engines, were the first post war Vauxhalls, developed from the preceding Vauxhall 12. Like the more expensive Sunbeam-Talbot, there were 4 cylinder and 6 cylinder versions (the Wyvern and Velox). Vauxhall opted to produce just one bodystyle, with the 2 engine options, as there was enough demand to ensure that the resulting production volume would meet or exceed the Luton plant’s capacity. By accident rather than design, due to lack of space in the engine bay, the Velox was the first car in Europe to not have provision for a starting handle and also one of first British cars to have a column gearchange and a metallichrome paint, an early form of metallic paint, as an option.
A Velox was £550, £14250 adjusted.
Morris Oxford and Six MS, Wolsley 4/50 and 6/80
The Nuffield Organization (spelt with American “Z”, not the English “S”, intriguingly) showed the new Morris Oxford MO series and its more luxurious Wolseley twin, the 4/50. These were designs by Alec Issigonis, featuring a torsion bar front suspension and a monococque construction, and looking like a giant Morris Minor, though the headlights were always in the higher potion that was not adopted on the Minor until 1950. Engine wise, it had the 1500 cc side valve engine from the pre-war Morris Ten.
From £546, £14250 adjusted
Morris also showed the MS series Morris Six, which shared the Oxford’s styling but with a dated and incongruous vertical grille ahead of its 6 cylinder 2215 cc OHC engine. The Wolseley 6/80 related to this car in the way the 4/50 linked to the Oxford, and became popular as a car for the UK police service.
Singer, then still independent of the Rootes group, launched the Singer SM1500 on the to the UK market at the 1948 Motor Show. Uniquely for the 4 cylinder cars featured here, it had an OHC engine of 1506cc, along with independent coil front suspension, a full width body and a separate chassis, but rather clunky frontal styling and suicide doors. This car was relatively expensive, at over £799, and its commercial failure was a factor in the decline of Singer and the subsequent takeover by Rootes.
£799, £21000.00 adjusted
Jaguar had perhaps the star of the show and certainly the most glamorous of this selection – the XK120 roadster, ironically only intended a limited volume car to demonstrate the new XK 6 cylinder twin cam engine. This was Jaguar’s first post war sports car, as production of the pre-war SS100 had not been restarted after the war, as Jaguar existed on just the MK IV saloon.
The original car had an aluminium body over an ash frame and was replaced by a steel (and heavier) body in 1950, once Jaguar realised the potential production volumes. All XK120s had independent torsion bar front suspension, semi-elliptic leaf springs at the rear, recirculating ball steering, telescopically adjustable steering column, and all-round 12 inch drum brakes that were prone to fade. Some cars were fitted with Alfin (ALuminium FINned) brake drums to help overcome this. The dual overhead-cam 3.4 L straight-6 XK engine was comparatively advanced for a mass-produced unit of the time. With standard 8:1 compression ratio it developed 160 bhp on 80 octane fuel. Most of the early cars were exported; a 7:1 low-compression version, with consequently reduced performance, was reserved for the UK market, where the post-war austerity measures then in force restricted buyers to 70 octane “Pool petrol”.
This was probably the first 120 mph car – without the full windscreen fitted and a small aeroscreen in place, 120 mph was possible from the first aluminium cars. The car was actually based on the chassis for the new Jaguar Mk V saloon, also shown at the 1948 show. The first cars were all spartan roadsters – later Jaguar offered drop head coupe (DHC) and fixed head coupe (FHC) variants, with more of the traditional British luxury car wood and leather trim.
The XK120 had a strong motorsport career, including being the first Jaguar to complete at Le Mans in 1950. Jaguar didn’t win, but did well enough to be tempted to go back again, and win it in 1951. It also had a strong rally career, including NUB 120, see here,winning the arduous Alpine Rally in 1950 and 1951, driven by Ian Appleyard, son in law of William Lyons. NUB120 is now preserved by Jaguar.
From £1200, £31500 adjusted
Land – Rover
Two factors were key to the origins of the Land-Rover: the ready availability of aluminium and the need to fill Rover’s factory with a quickly marketable product. Rover had a large but empty factory, which had been used for aircraft construction doing the war.
The UK government was controlling the supply of steel, and giving priority to export market products, of which Rover had few. Aluminium was more readily available and easy to tool up for, especially if sheet could be used in place of pressed shaped panels. Rover’s engineering director, Maurice Wilkes had a war surplus Jeep on his farm, which was falling apart rapidly and when considering what to replace it with, the penny dropped and the concept of the Land Rover was born.
Using the engine and gearbox for the pre-war Rover P3 saloon, with a 2 speed transfer unit to give the additional ratios for cross country work and a power take off to power agricultural equipment, as it was expected to supplant tractors (and horses!) in many cases, the Land Rover introduced 4 wheel drive to Europe. The reaction was immediate, and very quickly Rover realised that the stop gap deserved a better status than that, and slowly but surely started to develop a long term strategy for it. The rest, as they say, is history – the current Land Rover Defender is a visibly clear evolution from the 1948 Series 1 with a engineering link that is continuous. Land Rover have recently announced that production of the Defender will end in 2015 – a run of 67 years. Is that a record?
This was a basic vehicle: tops for the doors and a roof (canvas or metal) were
optional extras – this is actually a pre-production vehicel from 1947 being driven in 2009.
The development of the Land Rover brand into today’s Range Rover is quite remarkable – from a light industrial and farming commercial to perhaps the most accomplished luxury car available.
And where would the British military, police, fire services, ambulance services, coast guard, farmers, land owners, forestry services and infrastructure providers be without it? And a thousand other trades?
Morris Minor, MM series
Alec Issigonis is remembered for many things, including three innovative and excellent cars. In reverse order, these are the 1964 Morris 1100, the 1959 Mini and the Morris Minor of 1948.
Issigonis had joined Morris in 1936, as a project engineer on an independent front suspension system for the Morris 10, the first unitary construction Morris. By 1941, Issigonis had started work on an advanced post war car that became the Morris Minor. Much of this work was done under the radar, as Morris was officially committed to war production, and this may account for the code name Mosquito, possibly after de Havilland Mosquito combat aircraft.
In 1942, the first scale model of the Morris Mosquito was produced and the following year work began on a hand-formed steel prototype. By 1945, a full scale static prototype close to the familiar production form was completed. The story goes that at a very late stage in the development, Issigonis determined to that the car was too narrow, so he cut a prototype in half along its length and moved the two halves apart by 4 inches and set the width at that. Look closely at some early Minors (like the bright blue car above) and you’ll see a joint plate on the front bumpers – these were made before the final width was fixed and had to be adapted to fit.
Key features of this car included a torsion bar suspension front suspension, similar to the Oxford above, rack and pinion steering and possibly the most iconic and certainly one of the most attractive body shapes ever made in Britain. It was offered initially as a 2door saloon and a Tourer (convertible), and later a 4 door and woody style estate, known as the Traveller. The engine was mounted low, by the standards of the day, to benefit the handling and roadholding. Issigonis had originally planned a flat 4 but had to accept the pre-war Morris 8 side valve. 28 bhp, and nearly 60 mph!
Unusually, Morris’s chief engineer, Vic Oak, had given Issigonis control of the specification of almost the entire car, not just the suspension and steering. Issigonis also had an input on the styling, which was significantly more modern than the Minor’s contemporaries, and the interior, which had some of the starkness and simple functionality latterly associated with other Issigonis designs. Much more any car here, it was the product of one man and his convention challenging imagination.
The Minor was, of course, a huge success, for Nuffield and for Issigonis. The ease of driving it, attributable to Issigonis’s careful and thoughtful suspension and steering design, as well as the comparatively low weight of the car, were factors in that as well as the comfort and space it provided. William Morris (Viscount Nuffield), seen here driving a 1950 Minor off the prodcution line, however, was furious when he saw the final model, nicknamed it “the poached egg” and expressed no appreciation of it to Issigonis, until 100,000 cars had been sold. Production finally ended in 1971.
The Minor was as modern, progressive and accomplished in 1948 as the Morris 1100 was in 1962, as the VW Golf was in 1974 and as the Ford Focus was in 1998. Together, these four cars could be used to define the development of the small-medium family car since 1948
Arguably, it is Britain’s best loved and most fondly remember car, ahead of the Mini.
£383 for a saloon or a Tourer, £9900 adjusted