ECONOMIC and other conditions that favored and practically forced the development of the light car in England, and the history of that development, are dealt with at length by the author. He recalls the light cars of the pioneer days of the automobile and then the putting on of weight about 1898 to increase reliability and riding comfort. He comments on the reaction that resulted in the advent of the cyclecar in 1911 and its quick demise because of its failure to perform satisfactorily. The keen interest of the public, however, indicated that a big business could be done in a light, efficient, cheap motor-car if it could be produced in a practical form. Genuinely light cars minus the crudities of the cyclecar began making their appearance and quickly “caught on,” due to the tax on gasoline, low selling prices, and automobile-club competitions giving the public confidence in these vehicles.
Up to 1914 the light car, as distinguished from the cyclecar, was characterized by a two or four-cylinder engine of about 61-cu. in. capacity and was, as a rule, a two-passenger vehicle with not very generous equipment. It weighed about 1000 lb., had a speed of nearly 50 m.p.h. and used 1 gal. of gasoline to about 35 miles.
Following the World War, during which automobile production was almost entirely suspended, the tightness of money, a high automobile tax and the fact that the class of the public earning from $2,500 to $5,000 a year was hard hit, forced designers to exploit the small-capacity high-speed engine. Much had been learned about high-efficiency engines from aeronautic work during the World War, so in 1919 the light-weight low-horse-power general-utility family automobile made its appearance. It soon became a phaeton with a commodious body, and then an electric lighting and starting system, sliding front-seats, demountable wheels, and other equipment were added, which increased the weight. But the engine designer was able to keep pace with the demands on the powerplant without increasing the volumetric capacity much beyond 67.1 cu. in. and without sacrificing road performance. Compression-ratios were increased, crankshafts stiffened, and reciprocating parts lightened.
A certain clientele had become accustomed to large-car performance and luxury, however, and therefore, while in its earlier stages the light car became established purely on a price basis, the medium-price car and the higher-price specialized sports car appeared. The price range runs from $703.25 for the 7-hp. 91.5-cu. in. Austin to $5,000.00 for the complete four-passenger Martin phaeton. Three well-defined classes, as judged by engine dimensions, have engines of 91.5, 67.1 and 45.7-cu. in. piston displacement. Rated horsepower ranges from 7 up to from 12 to 24 and weights from 950 to 2240 lb. Maximum speed ranges from 48 to 67 m.p.h., and wheelbase from 105 to 108 in.
Specifications of the Morris-Cowley typical light-car are given by the author, who presents a table of performance of 10 English and Continental light cars and also a table of running costs aggregating $750 a year, or an average of 7½ cents per mile as against 6 cents per mile for railroad fare.
Success of the light car as a commercial product is indicated by profits made by the Morris company, which made a net of more than $5,000,000 per year for 1923, 1924 and 1925. Upward of 60 different makes of light car are either being built in England or imported from the Continent, and nearly two-thirds of the present production of passenger-cars in England is of light type.
Closed bodies are beginning to predominate, and Morris and Citroen are making extensive plans to adopt all-steel bodies. Weymann flexible bodies are coming into demand more and more.
Two interesting new developments that may be significant are the Trojan general-utility car having a two-cylinder two-stroke 10-hp. engine of 90.7-cu. in. capacity and selling at $625, and the Constantinesco, which has an engine of similar type but of only 30.5-cu. in. capacity and the Constantinesco transmission that eliminates all change-speed gears and clutches. The latter can average 28 m.p.h. on ordinary roads.
Six-cylinder engine development is evident, and another year is likely to see a large number of semi-light six-cylinder cars of a distinctly luxurious type.
In the discussion the facts were brought out that the type of light car produced in England, and also on the Continent, was developed in its present size and design as a consequence of the heavy tax on motor-vehicles, which is based on engine bore. This tax is purely political and if it were removed the cars would become larger and the engines of greater horsepower.
Conditions in Europe and in the United States are very different and caution should be exercised in following English design. The standard 56½-in. tread in this Country must be continued because of the large mileage of unimproved highways rutted by horse-drawn vehicles that have this tread and also because the public expects all automobiles to carry three passengers on the rear seat. Wheelbase is fixed by the distance from pedals to front seat and the necessary clearance of the rear fender by the rear door. With tread and wheelbase fixed, weight cannot be greatly reduced if low-priced materials are used. Weight affects operating economy, but interest, depreciation and insurance are major items of cost, hence running economy will not be largely affected by slightly reduced fuel and tire consumption.