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The following article first appeared in the  Daily Express Review of  the 1959 Motor Show at Earls Court in London


That's what adds up to SAFETY

says Dennis May

Current road accident statistics have at least one consoling aspect; fatalities show the right kind of disproportion to the increase in traffic carried by Britain's hardened arteries.

Chalk up credit, here, to the men who make the nation's motor vehicles.

Safety, so far as you can design it into a car, is a by-product  of something that the Americans call roadability - a five syllable word with perhaps five & twenty angles to it;but it's a by-product with a life & death rating.

Braking systems have made giant stride advances in recent years, and all over the show you will see cars with "powers of arrest" such as past generations of motorists never dreamed of.

Ultimately, no doubt, disc brakes on all wheels will be universal, but as of yet we are only at the transition stage. Several make, and some models of other makes, are, of course already 100 per cent, on discs. Most jaguars' output follows this formula for a fast and fadeless pull-up; so do the Daimler Majestic, the Twin-Cam MG, the Bristol 406, the Aston Martin DB4 and others.

Butthe more common recipe, right now, is to combine discs on the front wheels - which carry the bulk of the braking effort - with drums at the back. Converts to this compromise are thick on the ground at Earls Court. Examples at random are the whole Rover range, the Austin-Healey 3000, the MG A 1600, and the new Sunbeam Alpine and Rapier, and Armstrong Siddeley's luxurious Star Sapphire.

Meanwhile,however, drum brake development is far drom stagnant. The de-luxe Hillmans stick to drums but spread the load over a bigger frictional area, the actual increase being no less than 31.5%.

And although, in general, disc brakes are more expensive to produce than drums, the drums still have adherents to whom cost is literally no object. If you could bait Rolls Royce or Bentley into anything as vulgar as an argument, which you couldn't, they would doubtless prove to you catergorically that their drum brakes are unsurpassed the world over.

Apropos, the advance in the Continental Bentley braking blue print is threefold:

a) Greater lining areas - up from 240 to 300 square inches

b) Unique four shoe tackle on the front wheels -to spread the whoa there pressure more evenly

c) two completely separate hydraulic systems, with duplicated master cylinders (so in the almost inconceivable event of them failing, you will still have the other to save your plutocratic bacon).

When brakes go on, no matter what type they are, weight see-saws from the back wheels to the fronts. Therefore the rear wheels are the likeliest to lock in a crash stop. BMC have a new answer to the problem in a pressure limiting valve that does its own thinking in an emergency and restricts the effort routed to the rear shoes. You can see it on the iggest and the smallest Austins, likewise on the Wolseley's 6/99.

You can slow a revolving road wheel, or even stop it dead, but if it isn't on the ground you will have wasted your time as far as retarding the car is concerned. So... braking and suspension are intimately connected.

By this token, the 59 Show sees all-times's biggest swing from what is rudely called "cart springing" to all independent suspension. In its low price field, of course,the sensational Triumph Herald set the example to the industry here, and the BMC babies were quick to take up the challenge. Purely by reason of thei extra road adhesion, these are better braked cars than ther rivals with the handicap of a live axle clumping up and down at the back.

And while we are handing out medals for the safety that is inherent in all independent suspension,don't let us forget such makes as AC, Volkswagen, Citroen, Renault and Lotus, which interred "cart springs" and danced on the grave before Triumph and BMC.

Crux of the matter is that old bogey called unsprung weight; and there are other ways of tackling it besides giving the back wheels fully independent motion. The race proved De-Dion system is one ----you can see it at the show on Peerless, and Frazer-Nash models. Another way, perhaps less effective, but also less complicated, is to keep the live axle but use coil or torsion bar springs instead of the mis-named semi-elliptics, as on the Aston Martin and Bristol respectively.

Does you car's handeling alter much -does the feel of it change when you take four of five person load aboard, compared with one up riding? If it does, there is a source of potential danger built in, because in an emergency you may not adjust yourself to the transformation quite fast enough.

Renault, in their three - model Dauphine family, and BMC, with their Morris and Austin mini twins, get around this one with springs that automatically beef themselves up as you pile extra bodies on board.

In car design and development, two birds are often killed with one stone, the second one almost inadvertently. Indirectly, for instance, the search for fulle space utilisation may make a car safer.

As a case in point, the demand for maximum lebenstraum a wheel has led to short bonnets of today, most of them with a vision aiding fallaway towards the front. Rear engined cars, like the smaller Renaults and Volkswagen, score under this heading. and so do the snub nosed BMC babies, with assistance from the cross wise placing of their engines.

Again, if the publicity boys try to "sell" your rear fins as a safety feature, don't laugh because they are. Fins, even discreet ones in the Minx - Rapier - Gazelle manner, give you three quarter rear sighting points that many of their rivals lack; and accidentally reversing into any innocent bystander, even at car park speeds, is still an accident. But more imprtant in the general context of driver visability, are the ever increasing window areas, bigger windscreen wrap arounds, and slimmer door pillers,that give the 1960 models even more of a mobile greenhouse look than their immediate predecessors. There are none so blind as those who can't see, and none more dangerous than the blind.

The Italians and the Americans pioneered this move to strip the motorist of his blinkers, and these countries' crs show up well for visability at Earls Court. So do such Italian- styled and British built, vehicles as the Triumph Herald (by Michelotti) and Pinin Farina's handiwork as interpreted by BMC, Rootes, without foreig aid, have made their windscreens conspicuously wider and deeper, adding over 20%, to the glass area on some models.

Does comfort a just right driving position that still feels right after a couple of hundred non stop miles affect safety ?

Assuredly it does, and more than you ever realise if you lack that sort of seat, because the deterioration in your reactions is slow and insidious. Here goes again, then, with a hooray for Triumph whose Herald gives forty eight permutations on seat position and squab angle. Ford and Armstrong Siddeley rate tributes here, too for vertical arm rest adjustment on the former's Zodiac and the latter's Star Sapphire.

Any other evidence for the 1960 cars are safer proposition ? Yes too much for even a telegram language appraisel here. But don't miss these:......

  • Jaguars' new tell tale that automatically warns you when the level in your brake fluid reservoi is getting low.
  • Cushioned dash rails and neighbouring areas to save your face in the collision you hope will never happen, on three out of  every five makes in the show.
  • The Triumph Herald's steering column shunt absorber - to prevent the wheel boss pulping your plexus in the same hypothetical crash.
  • The concealed complex of chassis tubes in the roof structure of the hardtop AC's armour against cave-in in a capsize
  • Non reflective surfaces, above and around the facias of a score of makes (eg Wolseley, MG, Ford), eliminating disaster by dazzle.
  • Renaults' latest child survival device - set the rear door locks to "safe" and wild horses can't open them while the front doors are shut
  • Seat belts are standard equipment on the Swedish Volvo.
  • Up-sized brake pedal on the new Minx, an anti-tangletoes measure specially designed for women drivers wearing fashionably slender shoes.