1928: First test of a road-test

2013-06-19 09:33

Ever wondered when the first "new-car road test" was printed and which car was highlighted?

I collect car and motorcycle magazines and books – have done for more years than I care to remember. Storing them all safely has been difficult and if I should move house meant a chance to cull them significantly.

Today, as ever, I’ve looked forward to and still enjoy reading objective and unbiased road tests/new car or motorcycle appraisals so can categorically state (with much research) that the very first car road test appeared 85 years ago on April 13 1928. The vehicle evaluated was an Austin 7 from that year, the publication was The Autocar, a British car magazine that’s still going strong today though now titled The Motor/Autocar*.


While today road-testing can be highly technical, often seen with graphs and a whole raft of acceleration and other tests, this hasn’t always been the case. The modern all-important (to some) 0-100km/h sprint time and the higher number of kiloWatts the engine has so much the better, it appears. The accompanying photography is always top-drawer.

Things were rather different in 1928. Take a look at the picture that appeared with the Austin 7 road test. There’s mud clearly to be seen on the wheels and doors; the data panel published with the article was rather austere but included the position of the ‘strangler’ (choke cable), engine switch and starter button, then there’s the ignition lever and throttle lever to set and fuss over – all had to be correctly positioned before there was a chance the car would actually run.

Back then relationships between manufacturers and magazines were mutually cosy. The more modern Autocar report said: “Outspoken criticism was taboo, if things weren’t up to standard you had to read between the lines to find out. As time went by and consumer awareness grew, the truth became easier for the reader to deduce and the manufacturers had to grin and bear it.”

Punches were pulled in 1928; they are not in 2013.


Some of the text in that Austin 7 report was probably not terribly helpful. “It is certain that there is a great future for the Sunshine Saloon – a type of body consistently fostered by this journal [The Autocar], and the ‘England’ model is not only of very simple construction but it does definitely give one a waterproof closed car for bad weather and a freely ventilated, wholly open car in good weather.”

Wheelbase/length/width dimensions of the vehicle were given - for some reason as there were few garages then! Again, the tyre pressures listed would be cheerfully noted – but the braking test ‘graph’ that can be seen at the bottom of the data panel can only described as quaint!

It translates to 15 metres from 40km/h.

Lastly, fuel consumption was listed as 12.5 miles/gallon, which translates in modern terms to about 6.75 litres/100km - not great for a car that weighed less than 450kg!

*The Autocar was first published on November 2 1895 and The Motor on January 28, 1903. Interestingly, when The Autocar was born there were said to be no more than a half-dozen cars were running around Britain while the editor of the day, Henry Sturmey, anticipated a healthy future for the car enthusiast...

  • Regte Boer - 2013-06-19 13:03

    6,75l/100km is not bad at all considering it was 85 years ago. Today's light cars struggle to get 5l/100km. With all the technological improvement all they could manage was 1,75l/100km improvement - that is only 26% over 85 years!

  • Keith Monale - 2013-06-19 13:36

    Can you republish the entire article please?

      Colin Ashby - 2013-06-20 13:56

      Yes, please republish the whole article with all stats etc and undertones so we too can judge if its a good report. probably more truthful than todays road tests

  • Nick MacNulty - 2013-06-28 05:03

    Fuel consumption of 12.5 miles per gallon does not give 6.75 l/100km - more like 22.6 l/100km, if my calculations are correct.

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