Englishmen Abroad

A 1951 European Motor Show Review.

Image: The author

Seventy years have elapsed since The Motor, magazine both of note and of yore, printed year books (1949-57) to review the recent past whilst crystal balling the future. A 1952 edition happened my way recently, garnering a heady eight pages (from 220) with analysis garnered from the six European shows that year. Remember them?

Compiled by long standing journalists, Lawrence Pomeroy (son of the famed Vauxhall engineer) and Rodney Walkerley; could it be possible they had minions to accrue the information, rather than being sullied by waves of the great unwashed? Attracted more by figures than actual metal, “British cars are rare birds for 1951“, their words provide a very UK-centric view of matters motoring. Equally fascinating as they are frustrating, let us don our driving coat, hat and gloves and head off on tour.

Mid-January in Brussels and, similar to modern shows, contingents of Brits failed to show; Bentley, Daimler, Rolls-Royce, Frazier-Nash and Bristol chose to remain in Blighty. The Belgians were however, “treated to Aston Martin’s DB2, Ford’s Consul and Zephyr, the Triumph Roadster, Morgan Plus-Four, Jaguar MkVII and the Jowett Jupiter.” The Germans, represented by the Beetle, “just £365,” but Belgium had eyes mainly for Yankee Iron; the new to Europe Henry Kaiser J-Car with “a noticeably low price of £640 for a two litre sports job – should sell well.” That crystal ball must have been a little foggy. The cost of entry came to a heady three shillings; ten day attendance figures stood at 284,000.

Days later, Geneva took centre stage for the same entry fee, although less public this time: 210,000. Famous as the launch ramp for the Jaguar XK120, the West Midlands finest are merely brushed upon rather than fawned over. Catching their discerning eyes more was the Bremen made Lloyd. A 293 cc two stroke firing out all of ten horsepower. Striking a chord was the “modern plastic fabric covered bodywork” and for the cost conscious Brit, the Lloyd undercut the opposition at £354. The Renault 4CV £387, Beetle £454 and Morris Minor at £488. Last mentions for Switzerland include “custom jobs” by Beutler for a Bristol drop-head coupé, a Graber Bentley and the delightful Worblaufen Jupiter.

Remaining with coachbuilders, we hightail it to Italy and early spring in Turin. A veritable twenty three stands “devoted to such gems beat the manufacturers hands down”, though none are actually named. The entrance fee choked the pair, “twenty shillings! And if driving, don’t forget your Italian toll and petrol tickets from la douane!” The Fiat Organisation, “such a famous factory” had nothing new on offer though a model from the Shield held novelty value – “Lancia’s Gran Turismo with altered bore, stroke and therefore power was much improved.” Our hosts are also rather taken by “many estate cars of really excellent design and finish – even down to the 500c” but again fail to mention named examples.

The Author

Four short days pass from Turin closing to Frankfurt, the first West German show, opening. Over half a million punters stumped up the 2s 6d (I have no clue) entrance fee to witness products “from just forty manufacturers.” These spread over fourteen halls, “where the home teams devoted huge areas, halls even” to their wares. The largest queues were for the Mercedes 300, but Opel, Ford, VW and DKW “did well.” Seen as perhaps “lesser” marques also drew the crowds; aforementioned Lloyd then Gutbrod and Goliath. “From Gutbrod, 593cc. And Goliath 688cc.” No mention of price, designer nor availability. They were however impressed by “Frankfurt’s dimensions, staging and organisation,” respecting the “great deal of engineering activity” within Germany.

Partial to European Touring that both men were, a sigh of relief must have been heard when the next show, Paris was opened five months later. One million fee payers (3s) took in ninety eight makes. P & W thought the XK120 relegated to second place by “GM’s Le Sabre” and poured cold water on Bugatti with this pithy foil; “the type 101 is pretty but has not been cleverly married to the traditionally shaped air intake. Whereas the 57 and 57c show little change.” The Simca Aronde was expected “to sell three hundred per day” but their top honours fell to the “safe and practical 2.2 litre four pot Salmson Rondonée. Sure winner.” Oh dear…

Salmson Randonée. Image: antiqbrocdelatour

Two weeks from Paris, the merry go round came home; to Earls Court where our brace do not hold back. “Should a chap place an order at any of the mainland Europe shows, a wait of a few weeks can be expected. But England can make you wait from three to twenty years and more likely contain superficial similarities to your order. And the only new car was an Austin 7.” Mellowing to the point of inebriation, they still hold that the British coach builder rose above all others with this rather shining example. “Not only car of the year but of the century. The gold finished straight Eight Daimler built for Sir Bernard Docker and his wife stood out as the highest example of elegance and dumbfounding magnificence.” Equally exacting are their figures; 373,128 paying public shelled out their five shillings entrance fee over eight days to see sixty four exhibits.

As the stark chapter ends, the year book maintains that stiff upper lip kind of progress, covering Grand Prix racing and the scantly available new motors for ‘52. Our next journey though delves into those other two diminutive German brands so briefly mentioned: Gutbrod and Goliath.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

9 thoughts on “Englishmen Abroad”

  1. Good morning, Andrew, and thank you for an interesting retrospective. Was there an element of sarcasm and snobbery in the description of Sir Bernard and Lady Docker’s Daimler? Describing it as the “car of the century” and an example of “dumbfounding magnificence” sounds a bit ironic to me.

    That advertising illustration of the Salmson Randonée looks, apart for the front end, identical to the contemporary Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud. In particular, the bonnet looks ridiculously long for a four-cylinder engine. Amazingly, it’s not (that much of) an exaggeration:

  2. Morning Andrew. Another great read and very interesting too. I wonder why the Turin show, with only 23 stands cost twenty shillings, (£1), to get in, no wonder they “choked” at the cost 🤣. But what a job, visiting all the car shows around Europe and presumably getting paid or at least claiming expenses.

    1. Yes- at least £30, now (depending on which inflation calculator one uses).

      Plenty of interesting cars were launched that year – the Bentley Continental, Ford Taunus P1, Riley RME and, perhaps most interestingly for many here, the Alfa Romeo Disco Volante. And, of course, the Austin A40 Somerset.

      Very interesting article, Andrew – thank you.

  3. Good morning Andrew. Thank you for another interesting read. It seems surprising to me that shows were taking place across Europe so soon after the war ended. I wonder how difficult it was to drive around and actually get to all of those locations?

    1. The London show was up and running in 1948, with lots of new post-war models. Don’t forget that in Geneva there wasn’t any war….

  4. A remarkable snapshot of an important year. The exotic and esoteric seem to have beguiled the visitors, to the exclusion of highly significant mass-market products.

    The Salmson Randonée looks like a French interpretation of the Alvis 3 Litre formula, but somehow unresolved and presented to a less receptive market.

    Not giving too much away, Goliath showed an absolute cracker at the Frankfurt IAA. Although there had been pre-WW2 Borgward passenger cars, the parent company brand was only used for trucks and buses in the pre-Isabella days, but the company wasn’t being shy at the 1951 IAA – check what was cropped out of that view of the Mercedes-Benz hall:

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