Weekend Car Musings – Part Two

As we saw last week, there’s really not a good reason for a car to have a jillion horsepower — one of those “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” situations.  Lots of power on the racetrack:  good.  Lots of horsepower on roads and streets:  ehhh maybe not.

And when looking at cars on this here back porch o’ mine, can older cars be far behind?  Remember, they’re grouped into “taking the family out for a drive” (saloon cars) and “I’m taking my best girl out for a picnic or date” (sports cars).  So here are my choices, from a bygone age.

Saloon Car:

Citroën Traction Avant 15/6 Normale (1949)

I know:  the earlier Traction models (pre-1938) were horrendously underpowered, but the later 15/6 version had a 2.9-liter inline 6 engine which boosted its initial 32bhp to a stratospheric 60bhp, and this yielded a top speed of about 70mph.  I know:  I wouldn’t be able to take this splendid creature onto an interstate, but then why would I want to?  Country roads at 55mph, city streets (drawing admiring looks from everyone).  It’s still one of the classiest cars ever built.

Daimler Consort (1952)

Let’s see:  heavy, underpowered (2.5-liter engine / 70bhp) and supremely comfortable — sounds like my kinda car, and it is.  And it’s gorgeous, so much better-looking than modern saloon cars, and classy (which no modern car is, to the same degree).


Sports Car:

Fiat 124 Sport Spider (1966)

Built by Fiat, design by Pininfarina, the 1400cc engine developed 89hp (once again, enough for country lanes and pootling around city streets).

Sunbeam Alpine Series III (1967)

I have to admit a serious crush on this model, with its snappy little 1725cc / 96bhp engine.  It’s beautiful, cheeky and nippy, despite its underpowered engine.  Of course, it’s not as classy as its predecessor:

Sunbeam Alpine Mk I (1955)

This is the car that Cary Grant used to seduce Grace Kelly in To Catch A Thief, but I have to admit that its 2.2-liter / 96bhp engine, while larger than the later Mk III, had to move a chassis which weighed nearly three times as much.  But hey, I don’t do drag races.


Go ahead, laugh all you want at the above.  But I’d have an ultra-luxurious drive in the first category, and a super-fun drive in the other, whichever the choice.  I don’t need a massive, loud, gas-guzzling engine to do either;  but most of all, the cars are all stylish, in a way that modern cars cannot compete with.

Remember:  these are cars of their times, not for today, so don’t apply modern-day standards to either — although I’d happily drive any of them today, given the chance.


  1. Make the Sunbeam the “Tiger” model, and swap the 260 V8 for a nicely cooked 289 and I’m all in! Next door neighbor back in ’66, a wealthy nature artist, had a Tiger and I’ve been swooning ever since.

    1. The Tiger is an absolute bitch to drive: overpowered, crappy handling and of course the famed British unreliability. The Alpine is a much better choice, especially if you’re not going to do any drag racing.

  2. The Traction Avant’s were great cars for their time. but I prefer the next model — the DS. But that’s probably because it was the car owned by my new father-in-law in Paris in the late 60’s. We stayed in Paris with them for most of the summer of 1970. Front wheel drive and hydraulic suspension, a 2 liter engine, weird single post steering wheel, 3 speed manual, strange body shape and the comfiest seats around that reclined all the way. It was a great sedan / saloon car for it’s time. … and very French.

    For sports cars of the same era, I’d go with the TR4 I owned in the same period. also a 2 liter but a 4 speed. Even though it used Lucas magic electrical smoke to run the electrics, it was reasonably reliable ( as long as it didn’t rain or got cold ) OK ….. maybe at 21 a had a higher tolerance for pain.

    …… and sunbeam Tiger’s ( the poor mans Cobras ) were terrible cars that handled very badly and were impossble to keep tires on, since the hard tires of the time would spin at a touch of the gas pedal.

    1. I always think of those old Citroens with “FFI” and Lorraine crosses painted on the doors, full of Sten gun carrying Frenchmen tearing through the streets of Paris doing drive by’s on anybody in field grey. I’m told too that Citroens were favorites of French gangsters – not because they were fast, but they handled well and had lots of room for swag.

      I’ve talked here about my 67 Sunbeam Tiger. It was one of the few cars I’ve owned that genuinely scared me. Way too much power for the heavy front end and solid rear axle. Mine had a factory hard top that still leaked – although not as much as the rag top – and the electrics were an abomination before God. With all of that said its the ONLY car I’ve ever owned that I wish I still had. Particularly when I see nice examples (which mine was definitely not) going for over $125K.

  3. For the 2 seat sports car, a different Italian car would work for me. Designed by Pinin Farina, in RED of course.
    An Alfa Romeo Giulia Spyder Veloce. 1600 ccs of aluminum DOHC 4 cylinder goodness fed by a pair of Weber DCOEs for a little more than 100 horses. A top that did not leak, 5 speed very slick gearbox and handling that is just delightful.

  4. I too had a crush on the Sunbeam Alpine to the point that I bought and restored one using OEM parts.

    Even so, age has brought wisdom and I and my mechanic have reached a deal under which he will replace the Stromberg carbs with a modern fuel injection system. It will cost a fortune and probably lower the value of the thing but at least I’ll be able to drive it more than 3 weeks a year.

    He is consulting with the local Catholic bishop to see if an exorcism of the Prince of Darkness Lucas wiring is possible.

    My mechanic charges more than my lawyer, but unlike the lawyer, he gets results and doesn’t talk gibberish at me.

    However, I must quibble with your photo and description. I don’t know what year and series that Alpine is but the years for Alpine series were Series III – 63-64, Series IV- 64-65, Series V-65-68. The only way to tell is to know the physical particulars of each series, which I don’t, or have the VIN number and look it up online.

    1. Blame the Internets. I’m not a car nut in that I can seldom differentiate between Series I, II, III etc. for ANY car, so I have to rely on the descriptions as given.

  5. Owned a TR4 from ’66 to ~ ’70 and the Fiat 124 for three years thereafter. Thinking back on it, with all its foibles, I’d take the Triumph again any day; it was such a pleasure to drive: country lanes or high-speed highways.

  6. 13 Months in Vietnam has led to many memories. One of the best, when hitchhiking out of Saigon to Long binh, an older French gentleman and his Vietnamese wife picked me up in the Citroen. It was a joy to ride in such a car. As an aside, his turn off to go to Xian was just outside Saigon, he went close to 30 miles round trip out of his way to get me back to Long Binh. All my life I have been blessed with the people I have met, and the rides I have been given!
    Talk of underpowered, my first car was a 1968 Fiat 850 spider. A 817 cc engine, no idea of horsepower. Ran it all day long up against the red line, until it would run no more. My gosh though, what a fun car to drive. Horsepower isn’t everything.

  7. The only Fiat 124 I’ve ever seen that wasn’t rusted somewhere was in the Pininfarina museum. As I was there trying to sell Pininfarina something I kept that observation to myself.

  8. “…there’s really not a good reason for a car to have a jillion horsepower…”
    [smiles patiently]
    My ancestors were smugglers, boot-leggers, ‘outlaws’… and apparently, one flagrant ignorer of tax-collectors, myths and legends shared with reverent awe.
    Malcontents, every one.
    Let’s let the government agents do ‘sensible horse-power’, wearing sensible shoes while accumulating points toward their sensible retirement.
    Some of us shake our heads at sensible anything.
    The 1976 movie GUMBALL RALLY is the foundation for perpetual nightmares in The Hive, years of sheeple therapy with sheeple therapists, cold-sweating drones around the meeting-room table… terrorfied of toe-eating monsters under the bed.
    As well it should.
    On these hallowed pages, I wrote of my 1953 Austin Healey with its conversion to a Chevrolet V-8.
    I have only one response to any proposed ‘sensible’ horse-power suggestion:
    * ‘plus-size’ the tires
    * ‘plus-size’ the brakes
    * reinforce the frame
    * sequential turbo-chargers.
    On a gasoline engine, add a plus-size super-charger.
    If the next stage would be wings, we are headed the right direction.
    Did I mention my 1959 Bentley with its conversion to a Chevrolet 454ci V-8, much of its trunk/boot altered to accommodate a narrowed Ford nine-inch axle with massive meats?
    A doddering fuddy-duddy with a penchant for popping ‘wheelies’?
    Would this be a good time to discuss genetics, the innate differences between folk of mainland Northern European Heritage… and Irish?

    1. Gumball Rally. “Da firsta rule of Italian Drivin’; What’sa behind me is not important.”

    2. To quote myself: “Now I’m not saying that cars like this should be banned or restricted in any way”…

  9. The Germans have a saying, “Haste with elegance.”
    Any of your four cars comply with that saying.

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