A Variety of Vehicles

The Editor Drives the Fiat 2300 Station Wagon, a VW Transporter and the VW 1500S

So many cars come along for road-test these days that I have decided to continue last year’s practice of including some of the necessarily briefer reports under this “V of V” heading, not to be confused with “V-E-V” which deals with the older automobiles.

So this time we start with a handsome Tipo 114B/108 Fiat 2300 Station Wagon, which most certainly merits mention, but does not qualify for a full road-test report, because I wrote of the saloon version in January 1963 and published a complete report on the impressive Fiat 2100 saloon, in the August 1960 issue.

The Fiat 2300 Station Wagon is stylish in the modern, square Farina manner and the shortness of its bonnet belies the presence beneath of a 78 x 79.5 mm. (2,279 c.c.) 6-cylinder engine. There are those who maintain that the increase in swept volume from 2,100 c.c. has resulted in rougher running, and this I think to be true of the larger engine when “under the collar.” But it does provide extremely impressive acceleration, and maxima of nearly 60 m.p.h. and 70 m.p.h. in the 2nd and 3rd gears, not to mention a top speed of not far short of the “ton.” Moreover, if overdrive is specified (it is an extra), it not only enables very smooth, quiet high-speed cruising to be indulged in, but comes with one of the best controls available—a r.h. steering-column switch which selects o/d., the drive reverting automatically to normal if a change out of top gear has been made.

This Fiat Station Wagon should perform, for it develops 117 b.h.p. at 5,300 r.p.m. On an 8.8-to-1 c.r.

It is a “shopping” rather than a “farmer’s ” sort of station wagon, for the slatted floor of the back compartment has a polished finish and the tailgate is of the two-piece variety. But there is no denying the extent of the baggage space when the back seat is folded away.

This big but decently compact Fiat is very fully equipped, not only with items that often rank as extras, but with details like red warning lamps in the trailing edges of the front doors for safety at night, variable speed screen-wipers also operated by that truly excellent foot-controlled washer, adjustable front-seat squabs, air vents at each end of the facia, twin reversing lamps, and illumination of engine compartment and, on the saloon version, of the luggage boot and glove box. The last-named is lockable and prevents the bonnet from being opened, as the release toggle is inside it. The fuel filler is beneath a lockable flap and the steering can be locked.

The Fiat is endowed with a great many warning lights, including reminders that the hand-brake hasn’t been released and that the choke is out, and there is provision for adjusting the intensity of the parking lights. The horn on the test car, operated by a full horn-ring, was distinctly Italian in note and either shifted everything or stopped cyclists and pedestrians in their tracks—embarrassing!

The Fiat originally had rather suspect road-holding but in this respect the Station Wagon seemed better. The steering (3 turns, lock-to-lock, plus half-a-turn of sponge) and the rather notchy steering-column gear-change do not merit praise. The disc brakes on all wheels are very powerful, if somewhat heavy to apply, in spite of a vacuum-servo. The finish, outside and in, impresses as of good quality, and the heating and ventilation system is good once it is understood. There is an electro-magnetically controlled cooling-fan and that Fiat centrifugal oil filter supplemented by a by-pass cartridge filter.

The ride tends to be lively with not much load aboard and there is some roll on corners. The test car was shod with 6-ply 6.40 x 14 Ceat tyres, and the only trouble it gave was inability to prime on a gallon of fuel from an empty tank, perhaps because a small, engine-driven pump is expected to suck from the 13-gallon rear tank. Fuel consumption under unfavourable conditions was extremely good—24.4 m.p.g.—and no oil was needed in 620 miles. This smart Fiat 2300 covers the ground very quickly indeed. As tested, it costs just under £5,500, which for a 6-cylinder car so lavishly equipped is in the bargain category, or would be without Import Duty.
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Another vehicle not justifying a full test-report which I used for over 400 miles recently was a Volkswagen transporter—but it is worth mentioning as a possible racing-car transporter, apart from its many other uses. If you don’t believe this, ask Bob Anderson, who took his Lola V8 all over the Continent in one of these useful and rugged VWs last season.

The forward-control cab with bench seat for three and conventional gear-lever location makes driving very easy, although the clutch is heavy and the gear-lever a bit too short. The notably light steering and gear-change of a VW are appreciated when you turn lorry driver in a Volkswagen, but the understeer is accentuated by rubbery, vague steering, and, unladen, the tail will break away.

The noise level dies down as 50 m.p.h. is reached and this compact transporter covers the ground very well. One small design point I disliked was guttering round the front and sides of the cab roof but none at the back, so that water collects quickly on the floor of the body.

What makes this VW transporter so useful is its truly flat floor, unimpeded by wheel arches. Also, the sides as well as the tailgate drop down, making a platform which is easy to load. And under the floor is an absolutely vast luggage locker, although a door each side would make this more accessible when trying to retrieve small objects. I was disappointed to find the rear lamps obscured when loading with the tailgate down. As a private-car user I expected “keeps ” on the doors and perhaps a step up to the cab, which were lacking, and the very effective heater was of more value to the passengers than to the driver.

But, all in all, this economical, air-cooled VW transporter should be of interest to those with small racing cars and other vehicles to transport. Being licensed privately we were able to hustle it along, but, even so, consumption of “cooking” petrol was better than 30 m.p.g. The price is £605, tilt and bows £42 extra.
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The VW 1500S had been awaited with keen anticipation, especially after I had read of its vivid performance in the VW Magazine (contrary to general opinion, this is not another name for Motor Sport, but refers to Safer Motoring)—over 105 m.p.h., over 75 in 3rd, 98-m.p.h. cruising speed, shattering acceleration of almost Jaguar and Lotus-Cortina potency, and 34.4 m.p.g.

I naturally looked forward very much to 1500S motoring, thinking it might recreate for me all the enthusiasm I once felt for Volkswagens. Alas, I was due for a considerable disappointment. The car, a saloon, came to us fully run-in, in gleaming red paintwork, looking a bit self-conscious on its 600 x 15 tyres, German-made Firestone Phoenix tubeless, on the test car.

After initial disappointment over the fact that on a car costing £924 18s. 9d. in this country the front bonnet release knob, luggage-boot release control on the door pillar (thief-proof when the car is locked) and the interior light remain on the n/s. on r.h.d. cars, that the wipers fail to clean the extreme o/s. of the big windscreen, that the speedometer has only a mileage recorder, with no decimal readings, that the fuel gauge needle is difficult to see at night, that the push-buttons for wipers, washers and lamps are small, “fumbly,” and sharp-edged for sensitive fingers, that the pedals are high-set, and that the heater calls for continual adjustment as its output varies with car speed, I began to get back into the fascination of VW motoring.

It was pleasant to cruise fast without effort, in comparative silence if the window vents were closed, in a car of high-quality finish and simple but sufficient instrumentation, sitting on a generous-sized (but hard) driving seat, the squab-adjustment knob of which, however, was too stiff for me to turn. After a night out, in heavy frost, the 1500S got rolling in 13 sec., thereby upholding by a big margin recent VW advertising. Visibility is good, over a small, low-set steering wheel, the ride a bit choppy, brakes adequate without being outstanding, the gear-change pleasant but floppy and a bit “notchy,” 1st gear sometimes refusing to go in. The handling is satisfactory but far below Morris 1100 standards, and a 4.125-to-1 top-gear necessitates a good deal of gear-changing, which those who root for automation tell us is very fatiguing.

I think the advent of the VW 1500S rally cars, with their tuned engines, has caused people to expect the impossible from the catalogue 1500S, the twin carburetters and increase in c.r. from 7.8 to 8.5 to 1 of which give its 83 x 69 mm., 1,493-c.c. air-cooled flat-four engine 66 (S.A.E.) b.h.p. instead of the 54 b.h.p. of the 1500N. At all events, checked against our electric speedometer, the following acceleration figures were obtained, which will certainly not blow-off a Jaguar or Lotus-Cortina, or even a Ford Cortina 1500.:

0-30 m.p.h. .. 5.2 sec. (5.0 sec.)
0-40 m.p.h. .. 8.2 sec. (8.1 sec.)
0-50 m.p.h. .. 13.7 sec. (13.0 sec.)
0-60 m.p.h. .. 19.2 sec. (19.0 sec.)
0-70 m.p.h. .. 31.8 sec. (30.5 sec.)
Standing start ¼-mile .. 21.1 sec. (20.8 sec.)
(Average of several runs; figures in parenthesis are the best times.)

In the gears the maxima were 25, 45 and 66 m.p.h., respectively, there being no indication of when to change-up, in the absence of a tachometer. The limitations of the test track prevented a timed run at full throttle in top gear but on the road the speedometer went up to 100 m.p.h.; as it suffered from average optimism I put this at a true 93 m.p.h. But 70 was the more usual cruising speed away from Motorways, due to the lack of upper-end acceleration. As to fuel economy, a rough check gave an extravagant 25 m.p.h. on a day when, driving my Ford Cortina GT just as hard, it returned 30.4 m.p.g. And I had been asked to use 100-octane petrol in the VW, whereas the Ford thrives on premium. A more extended check showed 25.8 m.p.g. on a fast run down A 30, inclusive of performance testing. I set out to do another petrol-check but VW Motors L.td. were by this time ringing up so persistently for the return of the car, in order that another journal could resume their testing of it, that this had to be curtailed, and the overall figure, including more-gentle main-road motoring (because even on an icy March Sunday the “mimsers” were out!), must be set down as 26.6 m.p.g. of the most expensive fuel—another disappointment. The fuel range came out as only 187 miles. I’m not complaining, for naturally the exciting new VW 1500S is in enormous demand, but this may silence those who firmly believe I am on the pay-roll of Nordhoff and Graydon and have only to snap my fingers to be surrounded by Volkswagens for road tests of unlimited duration!

I was offered a VW Variant (by which they mean a station-wagon or shooting-brake) in exchange for the 1500 sedan, but it is bad policy to publish performance figures for one car, fuel consumption figures for another, just as we generally turn down generous offers from readers to road-test their personal cars, because a sub-standard or highly-tuned car can produce misleading performance figures, and so we prefer to test manufacturers’ Press cars wherever possible (Rolls-Royce owners please note).

Years ago, when I was a VW fanatic and Motor Sport helped to sell hundreds of beetles, I wrote as an avid enthusiast for Wolfsburg products, incidentally using a black beetle purchased by my paper at full market price. I am still very fond of the things but feel that in recent years the Wolfsburg formula has dated to some extent—and this curtailed experience a the 1500S has not caused me to change my views. Apart from the more powerful engine, it is, of course, the same as the normal VW 1500 of which Motor Sport published a full road-test report in May 1962, with comments on the Variant in our issue of last September.—W. B.