Pistons Going All Ways

This story could have been entitled “It never rains, it pours down,” except that on the weekend in question the sun was shining, the roads were dry and spring was in the air. I was all set to get down to some serious work on one of my vintage car projects when everything seemed to happen at once; the telephone kept ringing and there were people to see, cars to look at, and cars to drive, and the pandemonium ended up with my having three cars standing outside the house, all of them crying out to be driven. All I wanted to do was to get on quietly with my vintage project, but what could I do? There was this Japanese car, the Mazda 110S, a Porsche 911L, and my 4.2-litre Jaguar E-Type, and lined up they not only made the mouth water and the throttle-foot itch, but they dispelled any thoughts of stopping in the workshop.

The Mazda was the latest from Japan in two-seater coupé form, with coil and wishbone i.f.s., de Dion rear end with semi-elliptic leaf springs, like the old Lancia Aurelias, and was powered by a twin-rotor Wankel engine, the whole thing an entirely unknown quantity and very intriguing. The Porsche was a lavishly equipped 911L, which is the normal production model with 2-litre horizontally opposed, air-cooled six-cylinder engine, and it had the Porsche “Sportomatic” gearbox transmission, with a hydraulic torque-converter and electrically controlled vacuum-operated clutch, which does away with the clutch pedal. The Jaguar was my well-used 4.2-litre E-type, of quite standard specification, with 8:1 compression and a 3.07 to 1 final drive unit, and it had recently completed its third year and was past 70,000 miles without ever having had the engine touched. Not surprisingly, this trio attracted numerous friends, and comments were interesting. There are those people who have never ridden in a 4.2-litre E-type, let alone driven one, who run down Jaguars on principle, probably because they feel that a car like the E-type selling for just over £2,000 cannot be genuine, when Aston Martins, Maseratis, Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Mercedes-Benz cost twice or even three times as much. The true Porsche lover believes implicitly in the Zuffenhausen products and it is an accepted fact that “Dr, Porsche says the Porsche is the best car in the world, in the Porsche magazine,” and anyway “a Porsche is a Porsche, is a Porsche,” and if you like motoring you will like Porsche Motoring. And the Mazda? The first reaction from most people when they hear the name is to say, “Isn’t that an electric light bulb?” It is in fact a car built by the Toyo Kogyo Co. Ltd., of Hiroshima, in Japan, and they make the rotory-piston Wankel engine under licence from N.S.U.

So there I was with three interesting cars, one with a conventional six-cylinder, water-cooled in-line engine, with twin overhead camshafts and the pistons going up and down, one with an air-cooled horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine with single overhead camshafts to each bank of three cylinders and the pistons going in and out in a horizontal plane, and one with a water-cooled Wankel engine in which the pistons were going round and round; and some people think automobile design is stagnating!

I approached the Mazda 110S first as being the one I knew least about, but my approach was rather lukewarm, for the Italian-looking coupé body, while being very pretty, looked more suited to the parks and promenades than the open road. It was the rotary-piston Wankel engine which really drew me, for ever since I first saw one on the test-bed at N.S.U. many years ago, I was sold on the principle and felt it must come, like the turbine. Here at last was a production Wankel engine, on loan with no fuss or bother, no strings attached and no special instructions, to be accepted and treated as an ordinary power-unit. Some while ago I had occasion to borrow a two-seater Fiat with a 1,500 c.c. OSCA engine, a combination that Fiat were putting into small-scale production. The little 4-cylinder twin-cam unit, designed by the Maserati brothers, was a jewel and revved to 7,000 r.p.m. like a dynamo, but the rest of the car was terrible. It didn’t handle, it didn’t steer, and it didn’t ride properly, and the engine was completely wasted on the rest of the car. When I looked at the Mazda 110S, I thought history was going to repeat itself, and I was convinced that the car was purely a test-bed for the exciting twin-rotor Wankel engine. I had no qualms about the power unit, for the design originated from Germany, but I could not see that Mazda knew much about sports cars or race breeding like Porsche or Lotus. In the subsequent week and about 1,000 miles I had to change all my preconceived ideas; in fact, they were changed within the first ten miles and well and truly consolidated in the subsequent mileage. There was no question of the Mazda 110S being an electric light bulb; without doubt it is the Lotus Elan of Japan, but what puzzles me is “who told the Japanese how to design car, and how did they find out?”

The Mazda may look a bit fancy and frilly, from outside, but once in the driving seat it is very much a functional sports car, with the wood-rimmed steering wheel in an almost vertical plane, a short, stubby gear-lever by the left hand, speedo. and rev.-counter in front of you, a pedal layout that is absolutely right, and excellent visibility, the thin screen pillar being well back out of the field of vision. A twist of the ignition key starts the engine, and it ticks over at 750 r.p.m., the exhaust note sounding like a healthy two-stroke, such as a competition Saab, not the “ring-ding-ring” of an unhealthy economy two-stroke. “Use 7,000 r.p.m. for all normal motoring,” the Mazda man had said, “and 8,000 r.p.m. if you get excited, but don’t stay excited for a period of time.” After being spoilt by the vast torque of a Jaguar engine, where you can let the clutch in at 600 r.p.m., and just motor away, the Mazda-Wankel needed 2,000 r.p.m. to pull away cleanly, and then the rev-counter needle soon whistled round the big dial. The carburetter in use at the moment has a double butterfly throttle system, in which the second one comes in at around 4,300 r.p.m., and at that point there is a slight hesitation like a flat-spot, but then the engine really comes alive as “5,” “6” and “7” are soon shown on the dial. The gearbox and gear-change are very like a Lotus Elan or an MG.-B; nothing to rave about, but satisfactory and sporting, and the position and movement of the lever encourages you to use it all the time, the engine joining in the fun with eager response. There are some gearboxes which don’t encourage use, by their feel, and you only change gear if you really have to, and there are some combinations of engine and gearbox that are just not in sympathy. If you do change gear, you feel the engine is saying to itself, “Oh, dear, he wants some different r.p.m., what a terrible bore, but I suppose I shall have to do what I can.” A well-designed engine-gearbox combination is the complete opposite; as your hand goes to the gear-lever you can sense the engine anticipating a change of r.p.m. The Mazda-Wankel is in this category, especially when you drive it hard and fast, for third-gear ratio is nicely close to top-gear ratio, so that you can flick backwards and forwards between the two, to keep the engine on the boil around 5,500-6,500 r.p.m., and if you do that it really hurries along. Alongside the clutch pedal is a footrest, and you can pivot your left foot on the heel from this rest to the clutch pedal very nicely. The disposition of the brake pedal and accelerator pedal are first class, so that “heel-and-toe” operation when snicking into third gear is a natural function, even though it is not necessary for the four-speed gearbox has synchromesh on all gears. When the engine is up in the higher r.p.m. range the exhaust note is just like a rally-tuned works Saab, so that you tend to do a double-declutch movement from top into third gear for the sheer joy of the music, and everything responds to it so nicely that it makes for very pleasant driving. As the engine r.p.m. go up through 5,000 and 6,000 there is some bad resonance in the gear-lever, but the engine is like a dynamo and goes on and on as smooth and taut as you could wish. The tachometer red-line starts at 7,000 r.p.m., but there was no stress when it went on up to 8,000 in third, which was over 95 m.p.h. and really got things on their way, but over 100 m.p.h. there was little more to come. It wound up to 6,500 r.p.m. in top gear, which was around 110 m.p.h., but anything more needed special circumstances, its absolute maximum being just over 115 m.p.h. The speedometer was calibrated in k.p.h. and showed 200 (124 m.p.h.) very easily, and one feels that the Japanese must have been influenced by the Germans, to allow such a ridiculously fast instrument.

The Wankel engine came up to all expectations with its smooth dynamo effect, and during the two weeks and 1,825 miles that everyone drove it a pint of oil was all that was needed to keep it happy. The oil filler is a one-inch diameter tube rather buried among the air-filter and oil-filter, so that you have to pour the oil in from a great height and it calls for a very steady hand and a good aim. This is a pity, for the average garage hand will almost certainly let some run over the circular engine casting, and it keeps itself so oil-tight that clumsy drips would be infuriating. After one particular “demo.” on local race-tracks, in which 40 miles were covered in a little over the same number of minutes, with the engine being kept up around 6,500-7,000 r.p.m. all the time, we got back and were very impressed with the way the engine just sat there “pobbling” over at its usual 750 r.p.m. tick-over as though it had only just been started. This was not to prove at all unusual, which really endeared the Wankel unit to me, for there is nothing worse than an engine which gets back from a bit of a thrash and excitement and goes “stutter, fumble, fumble, stutter, hiccough,” and then stalls, or, worse still, gets all flustered and won’t switch off. The 4.2-litre Jaguar engine has the endearing manner of whispering away quietly at 600 r.p.m. with no fuss and bother even after a whole day of high-speed thrashing. Had the characteristics of the Mazda-Wankel engine been all there was to the 110S coupé, I would have been satisfied, but there was much more to come.

From the moment you set off the “feel” on the rack-and-pinion steering gear is absolutely right and without any juddering or kickback it transmitted exactly what the front tyres were up to. The bucket seats are on the Lotus principle of being designed to hold you in place, and not for being comfortable. The suspension looks after the comfort, so that you sit firmly in the seat and ride with the car at all times, and not in opposition to it, like so many cars. It is a firm sports-car ride that is better for the driver than the passenger, for it transmits splendid “feel” to the driver, and this gives you great confidence, but the level-ride comfort standard is not very high. As the car is such fun to drive the driver can overlook this, but passengers just have to put up with it. In cold weather the passenger has to suffer cold feet, for the heater outlet vent is by the knees and the heat wafts up and warms the body, leaving the feet and ankles very cold. The seats are adjustable for fore and aft position, the back-rests are adjustable for rake and the steering column can be adjusted in and out, so that most people from 5 ft. 2 in. midgets to 6 ft. 2 in. giants can get in, but the big ones tend to have their head touching the roof. The particular Mazda 110S being loaned was fitted with 165 x 14 inch Goodyear G800 tyres, and not only did they look right, but they also felt right. So many cars look under-tyred, and most of them are, that it was gratifying to see a car that was adequate in its tyre section. On the first half-dozen corners the tyres squealed to high heaven and I was doing far more work on the steering wheel than seemed justified, so that I felt there was something wrong. There was. The tyres were at 14 lb. per square inch front and 20 lb. rear, these pressures being recommended for speeds under 60 m.p.h. Over this speed the pressures should be raised to 20 lb. front and 26 lb. rear, and doing this eliminated all the previous problems. This information is given on a little plate on the driver’s door by the catch. It seems that Japan has an overall 60 m.p.h. speed limit (oh, happy England, with its 70 m.p.h. limit), and needless to say once the tyres had been blown up to 20/26 they were kept that way. The steering is nicely high-geared and the cornering characteristics are neutral at most speeds, the rear wheels sliding first if provoked, but the car is so nicely balanced that you can “play” with the steering as the tail goes out, letting it develop some quite startling attitude-angles, everything feeling very much under control. Under extreme provocation, as the rear wheels slide and you put on opposite-lock, the car will quickly lose speed on tyre scrub and flick straight.

Due to the nice characteristic of the driver riding with the car and not in opposition, any roll on corners is of no consequence and large undulations in the middle of fairly fast corners merely exercise the suspension and do not upset the feeling of balance, while the steering transmits the right sort of information about what the tyres are doing. It is essentially a forgiving car and you can take diabolical liberties with it on corners, knowing that even if you goof you can get away with it and “fumble your way round,” is Phil Hill used to say. It also has excellent “dodgeability,” just like a Lotus Elan, and it really enjoys being driven hard and encourages you to play “bears” just for fun. Colin Chapman said of the Elan that it is a fun car, and the Mazda 110S is definitely in this category. As the Editor said “After driving about in Fords, Vauxhalls, Rootmobiles and B.M.C. products, this Mazda brings back the real meaning of motoring.”

Now, fun is fun, and going from B to C the Mazda was most enjoyable, but when I used it for a motoring trip from A to B some of its shortcomings began to appear, not because they are faults, but because I have been motoring in a different world for the last three years, the world of effortless high-performance and for all practical purposes unlimited speed and power. I am referring to E-type motoring, behind 4.2-litres of engine pushing out over 250 b.h.p. After only just over 100 miles of pressing on in the Mazda I felt I had been working hard, whereas the same journey in the same time in the E-type was completely effortless. Keeping up around the 80-85 m.p.h. mark was all right in the Mazda, but every time there was traffic to overtake it meant a flick into third gear, wind it up to 7,000 r.p.m., back into top, accompanied by the rather obtrusive exhaust note. Roundabouts meant playing at Jim Clark, down into 3rd, down into 2nd, Which is bit too low and “notchy” so that it does not always go in, wind it up in the gears and back to cruising speed, which was all good fun and very enjoyable. When I found that the time and distance factor was the same as for the E-type when it just lollops along without using more than 4,000 r.p.m. and only occasionally using third gear, and hardly ever standing on the brakes, it began to make the small-fizzing fun machine a bit pointless, and when I remembered that the E-type costs £2,068 all in, and the Mazda costs £2,700, and that they were both doing 18 m.p.g., I began to see why I still like the E-type for serious motoring, even after 70,000 miles. The Mazda, like the Lotus Elan, is a fun machine and a little racer, but after an E-type they lack real performance. The E-type will achieve their standards with no effort at all, and on 500-mile trans-continental journeys it really demonstrates its seven-league boots, which on mine are Goodyear G800s like the Mazda. If you start “playing bears” with a 4.2-litre E-type, which I do occasionally just for fun, and wind it up to 5,500 and more in the gears, and really use the brakes and the tyres and the cornering power, then it gets beyond being excitement and fun and for me becomes very dangerous because my driving ability does not extend into that realm of performance. If your name is Graham Hill then it is probably all right, but it’s a big car and it is really on its way. On normal road motoring I have never had it flat out, with my foot down on the floor saying “that’s a lot, there’s no more to come.” On an Autostrada I can do that, and the absolute is 143 m.p.h. but on roads on which one lives that is academic speed. Speeds of 115, 120, 125 and even 130 are practical, so that cars like the Mazda, Elans, Porsches, Marcos, Alfa Romeos, B.M.C., all seem to lack real steam. It would seem that the only way I shall ever drive an Aston Martin or Ferrari seriously will be to buy one, and they would probably have adequate performance, but at twice and three times the cost of an E-type they jolly well should out-perform it.

While on the subject of E-type motoring one amusing aspect is the way you can be ambling along, around 65-70 m.p.h., when a local “hot-shoe” in a souped-up Ford or Mini will latch on to your tail and have a real go when you come to a winding bit of road. I often wonder if they realise that they are driving their “whizzer” at nine-tenths to keep up with the E-type which is loping along at four-tenths. Normal enthusiasts like ourselves can drive a souped-up “whizzer” or sporty car at nine-tenths, but I know I could not drive the E-type at nine-tenths. If I could I would not be writing about it, I’d be earning a living as a professional racing driver.

My peaceful week-end had not only changed into high-speed motoring, but it had become a week as well, and finally I tackled the 911L Porsche, and I must admit I did not have a great deal of enthusiasm for it. When I heard about the “Sportomatic” transmission last August I was aghast at the thought and said “what awful people must be invading the ranks of the motorist,” if they need automatic in place of that beautiful Porsche five-speed gearbox, surely the finest production gearbox in the world. The “Sportomatic” is not an automatic transmission by any imagination; it is merely a device that does away with the clutch pedal and provides a mechanism for coping with the first two or three thousand r.p.m. in the rev.-range to save the driver from having to slip the clutch. It is a very clever engineering exercise and technically interesting, but as I said last September in Motor Sport “something hold me up,” that Porsche drivers should need such a thing. The functioning is simple enough. Between the flat-six engine and the four-speed gearbox (yes, four not five on the Sportomatic), is an hydraulic torque-converter and a normal plate clutch. The clutch is actuated by mechanical links from a vacuum servo system and this system is energised by an electrical contact on the gear selector mechanism, the floor-mounted gear-lever operating the gearbox in the normal manner with rods and selectors. You start the engine, it churns the torque-converter and the clutch around, but as you put pressure on the gear-lever and move it forward into first gear the first bit of travel on the selector trips an electrical contact which energises a solenoid which in turn sets the vacuum system in motion, which in turn frees the clutch, so that the final movement of the gear-lever actually engages bottom gear quite normally. As soon as the lever is fully home the electric circuit releases the solenoid, which lets the vacuum engage the clutch, whereupon the torque-converter comes into action and the car stays at rest even though the engine is running, first gear is engaged and the clutch is fully engaged. Operation of a normal clutch pedal arrangement by the left foot gives you the same effect, but of course with the clutch being slipped instead of a torque-converter absorbing the slippage. Being hydraulic it can out up with this almost indefinitely, whereas a slipping clutch, even if it has plenty of clearance, will finally complain. As you speed up the engine on the “Sportomatic” the torque-converter transmits the right amount of power and you glide forwards accelerating until 3,500 r.p.m. are reached, at which point the torque-converter has completed its work and you have direct drive from the engine through the clutch and first gear pinions to the rear wheels. If you have inadvertently kept your hand on the gear-lever after putting it in first gear then none of the foregoing will happen, because you will be actuating the electric trip, which actuates the solenoid, which lets the vacuum withdraw the clutch, so you just sit there with the engine r.p.m. rising and nothing happening. As you take your hand off the lever the “gizmos” engage the clutch but you do not leap forward with a sudden jerk because the torque-converter looks after things. When you have reached 4,000, 5,000, 6,000 or 7,000 r.p.m. (the 911 is another smooth power unit that goes on revving like a dynamo), you simply pull the gear-lever back into second gear and as the gear selectors move they set the electricity in motion to disengage and then engage the clutch at precisely the right moments. If, when you get into the next gear the r.p.m. are below 3,500 r.p.m. the torque-converter works and smooth the transmission of power. If you are over this figure then you have direct drive. This business goes on in third and fourth gears, but if you are lazy or not intelligent enough to select the right gear and the right r.p.m. for the road conditions then the torque-converter is there to help you, and if need be you can go everywhere in fourth gear, letting the torque-converter take up the drive from 800 r.p.m. There is no question of there being any automatic gearchanging, the driver does that; the “Sportomatic” removes all thoughts of clutch operation and allows a wide speed range on any gear, once the driver has selected that particular gear. It is all clever stuff, and works impeccably, except that the engine kept stalling at tick-over, the power at 600-700 r.p.m. on a closed throttle not being sufficient to overcome the drag in the torque-converter so that as the car crept forward in traffic and you put the handbrake on, the engine stalled. You could overcome this maladjustment two ways, either by putting your left foot hard on the brake pedal and speeding up on the throttle with your right foot, so that the torque-converter and the brakes had a little battle of their own, or you could merely rest your hand on the gear-lever and cause the clutch to disengage. Driving the car like a genteel old auntie it was all very smooth and refined and easy, but driving it normally you soon got tired of the whirring of the engine not being in unison with the road-speed or the rate of acceleration, until you reached 3,500 r.p.m.

As I said when I first got to know the 911 Porsche, it was not impressive driven gently, and did not feel like a Porsche, but once you wound things up and really used it the car became alive and you felt immediately that it was a Porsche. The 911 still has this characteristic so it was not long before I used the gearbox to keep the engine well above 4,000 r.p.m. all the time, and then all the old love for true Porsche motoring came back. The positive steering, the beautifully controlled suspension, the impressive ride, the feeling of solidarity, the cornering control, the unburstable feeling of the engine, the hard, taut feel to everything was the real Porsche design coming out, but of course, driven like this there was no need for the “Sportomatic” except that it left me with a useless left leg, and the lack of a gear, while the “feel” on the gear-change to anyone who is sensitive was not like the normal Porsche gear-change when using the clutch with your left foot. One of the greatest satisfactions to me in motoring is to wind a five-speed 911 Porsche up to 7,000 r.p.m. in third gear, time the clutch and gear-lever movements to perfection, and “wham” into fourth gear, on up to 7,000 r.p.m. and another perfect movement, and “wham” into fifth gear and you are really on your way singing with mechanical enjoyment.

Had I used the “Sportomatic” for long I would have gone right off Porsches, but luckily you can outpace it and then you drive in a true Porsche style and it is great fun, and civilised as well, but as explained earlier in this article my Jaguar motoring has spoilt me and the ordinary “cooking” Porsche lacks poke. I know Porsche make a hot 911S and a hotter 911R, but my Jaguar is bog-standard so I’m comparing it with other bog-standard cars.

A Porsche is still a Porsche, but “Sportomatic” is not for “Sports;” it’s for people who can’t drive or the aged or the in-firmed, but not for me. However, it is comforting to know that when I am old and enfeebled, or have had an accident and lost my left leg I shall not be doomed to live in a Ford or Vauxhall, but can go on enjoying real motoring in a Porsche 911. The “Sportomatic” is a clever technical exercise, but as I see it with limited uses. Real automatic transmission with no levers or selectors is another matter altogether, providing you have an engine with a large enough torque spread.

At the time of the foregoing motoring week I had already decided to keep the E-type, as the financial situation will not yet run to a GT40, and apart from that, where do you go from a 4.2-litre E-type, if you want to progress in motoring. In consequence I had Jaguars open up the engine for the first time since the car was built, exactly three years ago, almost to the day. It was collected from Coventry on March 10th 1965, and on March 7th 1968 the Jaguar mechanics removed the cylinder head and sump, took out rods and pistons and we surveyed the scene after 113,553 kilometres (approx. 70,500 miles), most of which have been done on the roads of Europe. It has always run on Castrol oil, used any brand of petrol from Esso to “pirate” brands, but always the highest octane, used Autolite AG42 plugs without missing a beat and had new oil filters, new ignition points and new plugs every 10,000 miles. The camshaft covers have never been off and the only adjustment to the engine has been to tighten-up the top timing chain a couple of clicks on the eccentric adjustment. The whole inside of the engine looked very happy and comfortable, apart from a slight corrosion of the head gasket around the water passages, while maximum bore wear was three and half thousandths of an inch. The main bearing shells were slightly scored, it was thought due to water getting in the oil from the corroded head gasket but the verdict was that a decoke and valve grind and set of new big-end and main-bearing shells would see it comfortably up to the 100,000-mile mark.

After analysing and evaluating the Mazda 110S and the Porsche 911 I was glad I had decided to go on using a Jaguar. Some people might think I am merely “Backing Britain,” but I backed British cars three years ago when the 4.2-litre Jaguar was introduced. It was such an improvement over the old 3.8-litre E-type that I was prepared to give it a go in preference to Porsche motoring, and I have no regrets, except perhaps that the Jaguar family has never seemed such a happy one as the Porsche one. Even though I am no longer a Porsche owner I still feel I am one of the family for Zuffenhausen have a nice way of keeping in touch, with a Porsche club, a Porsche magazine, Porsche souvenirs and they are at all the big races all the season. Jaguar seemed to die when they gave up racing, as far as I was concerned, and Coventry seems a very impersonal place, even to a Jaguar driver, while there are some truly disgusting Jaguar drivers on the roads, as I found out when I spent a day in an Austin-Healey Sprite!

Summing up my interesting trio with pistons going in all directions, I can assure the reader that Mazda does not mean an electric light bulb (it is a brilliant little car that is great fun to drive) and Colin Chapman and Dr. Porsche had better watch out in the Californian type fun market. I would still like to know how the Mazda engineers found out so quickly and effectively. My guess is that they bought an Elan and a 911, and probably an Alfa Romeo and a 230SL Mercedes-Benz as well, and evaluated them very intelligently. The Porsche 911, when driven like a Porsche, is still a Porsche by any standards, and the E-type satisfies me still, even after living in it and with it for three years.—D. S. J.