The Mintex Dales Rally opened what could well be one of the most exciting seasons of rallying in Britain as entrants contest the title of RAC British Rally Champion. We spectated on the Mintex, and were impressed by the number of manufacturers directly or indirectly involved, and the sheer value of over 40 special stage sections for under £25 entry fee.
Travelling quickly round the route in a sure-footed Opel Commodore GS/E we were able to watch some superb motoring action with no special press privileges. The stages varied from an aerodrome blind (complete with a rather nerve-tingling plunge between the legs of a giant Yorkshire Electricity Board pylon) to smooth and fast forest tracks used on the annual RAC Rally. Starting on Friday night and finishing on Saturday afternoon, the writer can recall a superb fish and chip meal just outside York; the crisp moorland frostiness of a night stage, peopled by some enthusiastic and partially inebriated Irishmen, plus the sheer excitement of helping to put an errant Group 1 Vauxhall back on its wheels after it had rolled past our perch on top of a wall !
A very spectacular event, full of the action and friendliness that leads to the increasing popularity of this challenging branch of motoring sports. Incidentally the winner was a totally sober and very likeable Irishman, Billy Coleman, partnered by John Davenport in the factory specification 2-litre Escort RS 1600.
New enthusiast Fords
Although production of Mexico and RS Ford Escorts has ceased at Aveley in Essex, there will be two new RS Escorts available in May, via the existing 70-strong Ford RS Dealer network. At the Geneva Show Ford displayed three versions of the Escort RS 1800 (that’s the four-valve-per-cylinder engine) as well as the sleek aerodynamic lines of a fresh Cortina 2-litre-powered RS 2000. Details of the RS 1800 were revealed and reported in the presentation of the new Escorts (January 1975 Motor Sport), so suffice it to say that it is a limited production basis for competition, offered with a single twin-choke carburated 1,840-c.c. d.o.h.c. motor yielding 125 b.h.p. As an alternative Ford showed the RS 1800 with luxury options, probably with the thought in mind that an “RS I800-Ghia” could well take on the Dolomite Sprint, though the expensive 16-valve aluminium engine would have to be mass-produced to really provide competitive prices like those of the Triumph. The RS 2000 bears a very close resemblance to the droop-snoot Firenza—even the side window frames arc sprayed with matt black in the same way as the Vauxhall—but it is aimed for higher production rates than the Firenza with a simpler mechanical specification. The s.o.h.c. engine is tuned to give 112 b.h.p. (instead of Cortina’s production 98 b.h.p.) by new exhaust manifolding (still cast iron), large-bore under-body pipes, and absorption silencers. Servicing requirements are as usual for Cortina. Spring and damper ratings have been carefully revised to eliminate the old RS 2000’s occasionally jarring ride. The old RS 2000 twin radius arms rear suspension and 5.5-in, wheel rim widths are retained. Now the braking system features 9.6-in. dia. front discs, mated to 1 in. larger rear drums with a 7-in. dia. servo. Strong interior plus points are reclining bucket seats (exceptional if the development ones were anything to judge by), centre console and revised instrument cluster. Escort RS 2000 should boast a 112-m.p.h. top speed, coupled to 0-60-m.p.h.. acceleration in 8.5 sec. Production RS 1800s should manage about 120 m.p.h. and 0-60 m.p.h. in 8 sec. In line with the times fuel consumption is likely to be close to 30 m.p.g. for both cars, and the price of the RS models could well bring the production £3,000 Escort into view.
By British Mercedes standards the latest 2-litre model is powered by a much smaller engine than we are used to from Stuttgart. The £3,475 Mercedes 200 is propelled by a 95-b.h.p. version of the tough s.o.h.c. four-cylinder unit, allowing 26 m.p.g. under severe German motorway test conditions.
First sub-litre VW
The crisp lines of the latest FWD VW, the 900-c.c. Polo, were seen by the public for the first time at Geneva. Obviously an important addition to the increasing International small-car competition, the Polo features a useful opening tailgate to effectively allow the 11 ft. 6 in. VW 3-door facilities.
The Polo is not expected in Britain until July (LHD models are on sale in Germany this month) when it will cost approximately 8% less than the rather expensive Golf tested by W.B. Weighing 140 lb. less than the Golf, the 40-b.h.p. Polo is expected to offer a top speed of 82 m.p.h., 0-50 m.p.h. in 12.7 sec. and 54 m.p.g. at 50-m.p.h. cruising. Other important design features include suspension via MacPherson struts at the front, and what is described as the Golf “coupled link” beam axle at the rear; disc/drum braking and rack-and-pinion steering are also included.
A pair of new Lancias
The proliferation of new models at Geneva (10 at a rough count) was augmented by sleek new twists on the Beta theme: a mid-engined two-seater Monte Carlo coupe and a 3-door Beta HPE estate. The HPE (High Performance Estate) has the coupe’s front end structure, a Beta saloon floorpan, and the 100-b.h.p. version of the Fiat twin cam engine driving the front wheels, via a five-speed gearbox. The Monte Carlo is a development of the Fiat X1/20 mid-engine prototype and its open or closed coupe configuration will be marketed particularly strenuously in the USA. A top speed of over 118 m.p.h. is promised from the 1,995-c.c. engine, which develops 120 b.h.p. The Monte Carlo looks a doubtful UK starter, but we can expect the 3-door estate on sale later this year.
British team’s European effort
Backed by Hermetite a British racing team is to contest the Trophe L’Avenir series of European saloon-car races. Racing Team Hermetite will employ the talents of Tom Walkinshaw/John Fitzpatrick and Holman Blackburn/Mike Crabtree in two ex-works Ford Capri IIs prepared to Spa saloon-car regulations.
The 10-round L’Avenir series cannot be recognised by the FIA as a Championship, for there is still the official European Touring Car Championship for cars prepared to Group 2 regulations. However, the signs are that the Trophe de L’Avenir—which offers races like France’s Nogaro 500 Km., the classic Spa Francorchamps 24 hr., 18 Hours of Nurburgring and the Monza 12 hr.—will preview what saloon-car racing will be like in 1976. Then Europe adopts very much tighter regulations, similar to the Spa ones that govern L’Avenir contestants.
MGs at Brands Hatch
MG Car Club General Secretary S. Gordan Cobban reminds us that the club will be holding an eight race meeting at Brands Hatch on April 27th, including the first round of the Townsend-Thoresen Formula Ford Championship and seven races for MGs and Modsports. An interesting feature will be a parade of historic MGs and historic drivers of MGs, hopefully including Dick Jacobs, Capt. George Eyston and Ted Lund. If plans work out there will also be a display of driving in MG-Bs by pilots from the RAF’s Red Arrows acrobatic team.
Monica lives on
No sooner had a weekly contemporary published an “obituary” on the Anglo-French Monica 560 luxury sports saloon (see Motor Sport, May 1974, page 456, for the story of this car), than Bob Jankel, Managing Director of Panther West Winds, at Weybridge (featured on page 320, April 1974), announced that he and C.J. Lawrence and Co., who designed and developed Monica, are to ensure its continued production. Chris Lawrence’s company is to manufacture the sub-assemblies and Panther will assemble, paint and trim the car and market it through their established distributors World-wide. The production line has been moved from CFPM, the French manufacturing company, to Surrey.