Which Do You Prefer – British Classics or American Muscle?

I never really understood why Americans developed such a love for our British Sportcars. For Brits of my generation it is obvious as we grew up with them. In the late 50s and early 60s there were very few foreign cars on UK roads, a few Renaults and Citroens and the inevitable VW Beetles. Japanese cars didn’t start getting imported until 1965 and it was only in the 1970s and 1980s when a combination of strong unions, bad management and bad quality saw them really have an impact on the UK manufacturers. For a while there were probably as many American cars in the UK as German, as we had a lot of US bases all over the country and many GIs imported US cars.

I have known for years that about 75% of production of Austin Healey, Jaguar, MG and Triumph went to the US but it is only now that I own two American classics that I think I understand why British cars are loved so much.

To illustrate this I think it is worthwhile doing a straight comparison with a couple of the classics that I have owned and driven. My favourite car by a long way is my 1970 Jaguar SII E-Type. I am now on my 3rd E-Type having progressed up the value chain from a SII 2+2, the least desirable version, to a SII coupe and now to a SII Roadster. 1964 saw the S1 E-Types evolving from the original design with the 4.2 litre engine replacing the 3.8, a Jaguar gearbox replacing the appalling Moss one, brakes being upgraded and a decent servo installed and good supportive seats replacing the original bucket ones. 1964 saw the launch of the Ford Mustang in the US and my 1st American Muscle Car is a 1965 Mustang Fastback GT, so I believe it is fair to compare these two.

I will ignore the fact that the Ford Mustang is a 2+2 v the 2 seater E-Type and concentrate on the technology and driving. Both cars have similar power outputs – Mustang 250 bhp, E-Type 265 bhp, both have 4 speed manual gearboxes and the weights are pretty close. There the similarities end. The Mustang has a solid rear axle on good old fashioned cart springs and single Macpherson strut suspension for each front wheel. The E-Type has double wishbone front suspension and fully independent rear suspension. Ford offered various braking options: drums all round; drums plus a servo or drums on the rear and disks on the front – which ours has. For some inexplicable reason Ford didn’t think the driver would need disks and a servo. E-Types have disk brakes on all four wheels and a servo as standard – right from their launch in 1961.

It is this combination of fully independent suspension and decent brakes that make the E-Type completely outclass the Mustang, which is pretty fast in a straight line with 0-60 being only 1 second slower than the E-Type. Sadly the myth that American muscle cars were not designed to go round corners seems fairly accurate. The basic suspension is responsible for a soft ride and lots of body roll, speed really needs to be scrubbed off to get round even the gentlest of bends. The E-Type will easily leave the Mustang standing on any winding country road.

Over the years technology improved a bit so it is worth comparing our 1974 Triumph TR6 with my 2nd American muscle car – a 1978 C3 Corvette Special Edition Indy Pace Car. The TR6 develops 125 bhp from its Lucas injected 6 cylinder 2.5 litre engine while the Vette develops 220 bhp from its V8 which is more than twice the size at 5.7 litres (350 ci). This engine has to drag along about 50% more weight than the TR6 – 3,624 lbs v 2,410 lbs but does manage to carry it to 60 mph about 1½ seconds quicker. Top speed of the Vette is only 5 mph faster than the TR6. Not a huge difference for all that extra horse power and fuel consumption.

The TR6 has a 4 speed manual gearbox with overdrive giving it 6 gears while the Vette has a 3 speed auto box which doesn’t rev very high, even with the accelerator flat on the floor.

Both the Vette and TR6 have independent rear suspension so the road holding on both is better than the 1965 Mustang but not as good as the E-Type. The Vette has disk brakes on all four wheels and a servo v the TR6 front disks and servo. To help handle the weight of the cast engine V8 engine block our Vette has power steering which while it makes life really easy loses all feedback to the driver.

We take our cars on track when possible on a classic car tour and our Etype would leave the Mustang standing. I haven’t yet taken the Corvette on track and while it will be quick off the line I am sure that the TR6 will see it off in the corners as it is much lighter and more nimble.

The two American muscle cars do have a few things going for them: that unique V8 burble, straight line speed and their ability to attract attention. There is also no doubt that the success of the Mustang (1 Million cars sold in 18 months) is unlikely ever to be matched again and Ford with their huge options list did more to push the idea of the ‘personal car’ than anyone else.

But our TR6 and Etype are much better driver’s cars, better road holding, better braking, more nimble and much more fun.

This can all be summarised by the split in the age range of who appreciates which car. The American cars tend to attract the attention of 30 somethings who have grown up with American films like Grease and High School Musical. The E-Type and TR6 tend to attract the attention of 40 and 50 somethings who grew up with them in the UK.

It would interesting to see a remake of Grease with ‘Greased Lightning’ being based on an E-Type!

Hints and Tips on Storing Your Classic Car Over the Winter

We don’t let our classic cars go out on hire in the depths of winter, particularly once the first frosts arrive and the councils start spreading salt on the roads. Our cars were never rustproofed when new and even though we tend to Waxoyl them ourselves this can never be done completely and always leaves untreated bodywork which is subject to the dreaded tin worm.

We take them all off the road over the winter and work through our list of improvements and put them all through our garage for their main annual service. Putting them away for the winter isn’t just a matter of driving them into the garage and we do, and recommend that classic car owners do, as much of the following as is practicable.

    • Clean and polish the whole car properly, including the underside of the bonnet and boot lids and as much of the engine bay as is reachable. Empty the boot and clean and polish the inside of the boot and the boot floor.
    • While you have the spare wheel out make sure it is clean and check the tyre pressure. As tyres can lose a bit of pressure over time when stored, pump it up to a few PSI more than is needed.
    • Hose down the underside of the car and dry it off as best as you can – if necessary taking it for a short drive to dry it off – as long as there is no salt on the roads of course.
    • Check the carpet to see if they are at all damp – most classics tend to leak to some extent. If possible lift the carpets and any soundproofing or underlay and check the floor isn’t wet. If it is, remove the carpets and dry and polish the floor. Hang the carpets and underlay up in the garage to dry, or store them in the airing cupboard if you are allowed to.
    • If you have over mats in the footwells it is a good idea to remove these to allow the main carpet to breathe. Store these somewhere where they will keep dry, or dry out if necessary.
    • If there was any damp inside the car at all this can creep up into the carpet that covers the gearbox and transmission tunnel or the carpet under the seats. Install a mini dehumidifier which will dry the car interior out slowly over a couple of weeks. These are not expensive – about £30 each and I have used them for over 15 years. They only consume about 40w so don’t cost much money to leave running continuously. They extract water and fill up a small tank which needs emptying when the light changes from green to red. Keep running the dehumidifier until no more water appears in the tank.
    • Store the car with the windows wound up otherwise the dehumidifier will be extracting moisture permanently as the air circulates round the car.
    • More importantly keeping the windows closed will stop your local rodents from deciding to make their winter home inside the car and chewing up the carpet and seats.
    • If you have the luxury of keeping your car stored in a Carcoon or an AirChamber then as long as the fans on this are kept running they will dry out the car both inside and out so an in car de-humidifier is not needed. We keep one of our cars in an AirChamber which works extremely well.
    • Check all under bonnet fluid levels: coolant – top up with antifreeze rather than water; oil; brake and clutch fluids and the battery electrolyte level.
    • Connect a trickle charger to the battery to keep it topped up. I prefer the ones that show a red LED while charging and a green LED when fully charged so the charge state can be seen at a glance. There are some premium priced chargers on the market for over £70 but I have normally bought suitable ones in the £20 to £30 price range which have worked perfectly. Some of these come with extra leads, with an inline plug, which can be fitted to the car so the charger can just be plugged in. I have fitted one of these to our MGB to save me having to lift the panel over the batteries to get to them. Alternatively connect the cigarette lighter direct to a live feed, not switched through the ignition, connect a cigarette plug to the charger and then it can just be plugged into the cigarette lighter.
    • Pump up tyres to a couple of PSI above the normal pressure to allow for any loss over the winter.
    • Do not use the handbrake in case it sticks on.
    • If your car is convertible, keep the soft-top raised and taut to keep it dry and free from mould.
  • If you have chrome wire wheels, clean them and give them a liberal coating of WD40. This can be cleaned off in the spring.

It is a good idea to start the car at least once a month during the winter and run it fully up to operating temperature. If possible, and salt hasn’t been used on the roads for a while, then take it for a short run. If this is not practical then at least drive it back and forth out of the garage to make sure the clutch works, none of the brakes have stuck on and at least get some of the oil and grease doing their jobs on moving parts. Also try all switches to make sure they work. Switch contacts can oxidise internally if not used and just switching them on and off will help prevent this.

And finally look forward to Spring, sunshine and no salt!