An interesting 1½-litre of proved design and performance.
NOWADAYS there are a number of cars, which in many ways are inclined to lack interest in the eyes of the enthusiast owing to the fact that they lack any particular qualities to distinguish them from being "just a motor car." However now and then one comes across cars with real character whose virtues are not merely negative and although these are apt to possess points with which one does not always agree, they at the same time possess other qualities which make them extremely attractive. The sports car must have this to arouse any real enthusiasm and in the front wheel drive Tracta which we recently had the opportunity of putting through a fairly prolonged test, we found a car which definitely made one think. At times we were annoyed by various minor points which seemed to us not to be just what we would like; but at other times and especially towards the end of the test we came more to feel that here at least was something out of the ordinary and a car which the more one drove the more one wanted to go on driving.
Much has already been written about the relative merits of front wheel drive and rear wheel drive and we do not propose here to start any argument as to which is the best, if either. We must confess that we are not convinced that front wheel drive, as such, has any outstanding advantage over real wheel drive from the point of view of road holding, cornering and general control which after all are the chief points in sports cars; but we can say quite definitely that flout wheel drive really well carried out, as has been done in this case, is definitely as good as a really good rear wheel drive and that is saying a great deal. In our opinion the greatest merit of front wheel drive is gained from its other qualities, in the way that all the machinery is, so to speak, kept to one part of the ship and it is possible to build a car really low on the road which although not lower than can be obtained from a rear wheel drive design is much easier to obtain, and from the point of view of the body builder is greatly preferable. So many 4-seater sports cars of conventional type still suffer from very uncomfortable rear seating accommodation; that is to say rear seats are too high and there is absolutely no means of lowering them in any way. On the Tracta however, the 4-seater model is built so that the rear passengers sit just as low as the front. This means that a 4-seater sports car with really good lines can be achieved.
The car we tested was a 2-seater but the accommodation in the tail for luggage, etc., would put many 2-seater touring cars to shame, from the point of view of the quantity which can be carried and all this without spoiling the lines.
Any one who is not familiar with an f.w.d. vehicle may expect to find something strange in the way it behaves when first taking over, but actually this is not the case and in handling at average speeds there is nothing in its behaviour any different from the normal layout. We had expected the steering to be heavy due to the considerable amount of mechanism which has to be moved when the steering is moved, but this is not so. The steering is extremely light and although it is not possible to get a definite caster action in this type of drive the steering comes back to the centre very easily and is so positive that there is no feeling of strangeness. Though we have driven cars which were little more sensitive and a little pleasanter in the steering these are so few and in such a very high class that we have no hesitation in stating that the Tracta steering can definitely be included among the elect whose control has been developed by road racing.
Cornering at speed is very easy as owing to the extremely low build there is no tendency to roll and the weight distribution is such that there seems no tendency for the tail to slide unduly. On wet roads however there is a slight tendency tor the tail to slide about on fast corners and although this does not appear to have the least effect on the control, and seems to correct almost immediately, it is a little strange at first. On dry roads however it will slide normally on a corner taken too fast, presenting no difficulty to anyone used to an ordinary car. There is a prevailing idea that travelling with a f.w.d. car it is necessary to go round a corner on the engine and if this is not done the car will become out of control. On the Tracta this does not happen, as we purposely tried the experiment. On a chosen corner where there was plenty of width to allow for eventualities, we entered a great deal too fast on the engine. As we were going faster than the limit of this particular corner the whole car proceeded to slip sideways towards the outside but there was no tendency to turn round. We shut off the throttle prepared for some unnatural evolution but the car merely eased slightly, ceased to slide, and came round the corner under perfect control. Another illustration of the ability to meet with an emergency was shown when we encountered a badly lit lorry proceeding towards us on the wrong side of the road, as we entered a patch of mist. The only solution was to swerve round the front of the offending vehicle, the whole manoeuvre being carried out at a normal fairly fast cruising speed and the only sign that anything unusual was occurring was the complaining scream of Mr. Dunlop's products on the tarmac. This was definitely a liberty which could only have been taken with very few cars and shows that the Tracta has one of the greatest features of any sports car in its cornering ability. We have dwelt rather long on the behaviour of this machine on corners but being unconventional in design this is a point some people might be worried about, and we were anxious to try out all the claims that are made for it and we must say that they are not exaggerated.
Among many unconventional features one of the most striking is the gear change. As the editorial education did not include lessons on the trombone, we were at first a little put out as this control is operated by a sliding rod which comes through the dash board. The movement is fore and aft for changes 1st to 2nd and 3rd to top, a twist being equivalent to crossing the gate. However when one is used to this control its advantages become evident as it is possible to make very quick changes in all directions, and the change from 3 to top and vice versa which is so frequently used on sports cars is extremely simple. When engaging 2nd gear this makes a slight noise, this being due to the fact that at the same time that the second gear is engaged an idler pinion is also engaged from rest and is therefore noisy, especially if travelling fast. This is not a very good piece of design and although there are doubtless technical reasons why this is fitted we would suggest that this is modified as soon as possible. Although the clutch of the model we tried was rather heavy this is not standard and on trying clutches of other machines at the showrooms of Arthur Stewart Auto Services in Vauxhall Bridge Road who handle the cars in this country, we found that the normal operation is as light as can be.
Although the maximum speed on the level was an average of 71 m.p.h. we are certain that this could be improved upon by a modification to the carburettor setting, as this particular car has covered 73 m.p.h. in the hour at Brooklands. On one occasion when going downhill we attained 83 m.p.h., and the steadiness at this speed was extremely gratifying. This would suggest that it is over geared, but from every other symptom we do not thimk this is so, and suggest that a slight modification in the carburettor and ignition settings would produce a greater speed on the level.
The engine is very smooth and well balanced at high speeds, but it is inclined to be rough at low speeds; this however seems to apply to most small high efficiency engines and the extremely solid construction of the engine and the whole car gives one the impression that nothing would ever break. Examination of the chassis makes it obvious that the car has been designed for high speed travel on Continental roads, the whole chassis being more strongly built than we have ever seen a 1500 c.c. car. Acceleration to 30 m.p.h. takes 10 secs. from rest and the acceleration in the higher parts of the range, although not remarkable, was quite up to the average of this class and very good in view of the fact that the car weighs nearly 19 cwt.
The brakes will bring the car to rest in 70 feet from 40 m.p.h. and are powerful and effective at all speeds. However, they are not as smooth as they might be, there being a slight tendency to chatter when they are applied violently. We would suggest that the internal brakes should be fitted instead of the external contracting type.
The Royal body work is extremely comfortable and the driving position just right for control, while there is plenty of room in the body due to the absence of any transmission to the rear. The electric equipment is good and the head lamps show that the experience of the makers in 24 hour races like Le Mans has not been in vain and the whole construction of the car is the result of development in the hard school of long distance racing.
The price of the 2-seater body is £495 and when the performance, very robust construction and full equipment are considered in comparision with the general run of 1500 c.c. sports models, this price seems extremely reasonable.
Motor Sport, March 1930