The feast days of the automobile world are those given to its great shows. They are visual feasts of course, and this week the table is laid at the 43rd Earls Court show in London. Wide-eyed Britons in impressive numbers are paying out hard-earned shillings to ogle the plain and fancy stuff of Europe's booming automobile industries. Every day, Juan Manuel Mittys win dramatic races, in the mind, in such distinguished high-performance cars as the mint-new Aston Martin DB4 (see page 50). Others daydream to the country in the new Austin A40 station wagon-sedan (page 53). For American daydreamers SPORTS ILLUSTRATED presents on the following pages its own foreign car show—a worldwide selection of newsmakers, curiosities and hardy perennials, including the decidedly dreamworthy new Mercedes 300SL hardtop (above), which isn't being shown at Earls Court.
Americans year after year are buying more and more foreign cars (probably 300,000 in 1958). And year after year European manufacturers are adding more color, brightwork and zip to more models to appeal to U.S. tastes. This is but one aspect of an international cross-fertilization that becomes ever more apparent. For example, much of the lackluster styling for which Britain is notorious is yielding to new designs—Italian in the case of the Aston Martin and Austin, which are big hits at Earls Court. It is no secret that Detroit too has invested heavily in prototypes from Italian designers, or that the Italians have followed Detroit's lead in providing more creature comforts. Detroit's influence is unmistakable in cars like the Borgward and the Fiat on the next pages.
Booming is perhaps too mild an adjective for the state of foreign car production. A good part of West Germany's postwar "economic miracle" is due to the auto industry, which built 1,212,232 cars and trucks in 1957 and 741,322 in the first six months of this year. Nearly 50% of the 1958 production is being exported. Britain turned out more than 1,150,000 vehicles in 1957 and produced a record 550,669 passenger cars in the first half of 1958. France built 925,800 vehicles last year and expands apace. Italian passenger car production first exceeded 100,000 in 1950; it soared to 318,488 last year and is still soaring.
Anyone with a taste for glittering generalities can work up his own catalog of national characteristics from the publicity photographs that flow out from the manufacturers and reveal, as well, the extent of the spread of American advertising gimmicks. Take the three above, for instance. Here we have the warmth of Dutch family life, French glamour and chic and the approving pat of a Japanese Sumo wrestler being used to entice the buyer.
World famed sports car is Germany's Mercedes 300SL, fitted with this detachable hardtop for the first time. Top speed: 155 mph. Price in the U.S.: about $11,350.
The Netherlands' DAF, whose debut is due early in 1959, is only 12 feet long, weighs only 1,268 pounds. Suspension is independent front and rear. The air-cooled, 590-cc. engine produces 22 hp. Top speed of 75 mph is claimed.
Italy's ALFA Romeo 2000, by the renowned stylist Pinin Farina, has a wraparound grille that Detroit might envy. A 100-mph touring car suited to fierce Italian driving habits, it is surefooted in the country and showy in town.
France's Facel Vega is its answer to other nations' luxury cars (Secretary Dulles was the first VIP to ride in one bought by the French government). This Excellence model is fast, silent, beautifully finished and costly ($12,500). The cars have American Chrysler engines.
Britain's Aston Martin DB4, which has a handsome four-seat Italian body by Touring of Milan atop the race-proven chassis, is the particular star of London's Earls Court show. Top speed is 150 mph, and the car can accelerate to 100 mph and stop in just 27 seconds.
Japan's Subaru is typical of the new, highly popular midget cars (in Germany, one of every three cars sold is a midget). The Subaru is 10 feet long, has a two-cylinder, 356-cc, 20-hp rear-mounted engine and weighs only 882 pounds.