Alfa to omega
Today most major motor shows are biennial affairs in centres such as Tokyo, Detroit, Frankfurt and Paris, with our own Birmingham alternating with the younger Earls Court Motorfair, which has developed into virtually a full-blown international. Geneva is now the only major European show to survive on an annual basis. Indeed, it prospers in the manner that befits a Swiss business in its spacious Palexpo halls.
Motor Sport has continued to attend, for the sporting content and significance has been equal to the changing face of motoring in the Eighties. It was at Geneva that Audi first displayed (and allowed our representative to drive) the Quattro. It was also the scene of De Lorean’s chaotic presentation of the ill-fated gullwing.
This year the efficient Swiss organisers said “32 new models never before shown anywhere in the world” would be to hand. Our particular interests were in seeing the pre-production mid-engined Honda NS-X and the new 300 bhp V8 which Ferrari will now sport (perhaps in answer to this totally expected follow-up by Honda of its Grand Prix success).
In my opinion Honda is one of the significant automotive companies operating on the world stage, and of particular interest in Britain where the Honda link with Rover Group appears to have no particular car development pattern after autumn 1989. Then, the Maestro replacement becomes available, developed from Honda’s new Concerto saloon and potential father to much more, including a possible MG convertible. Thus a European premier of its bold NS-X was not to be missed.
I would have dubbed the gleaming red and black two-seater a pre-production example for finish and practicality, particularly in the provision of so much glass in a mid-engined design. The first customers will come from America and Japan in “the beginning of 1990”, according to Honda’s British representatives, “with the rest of the world, including Britain, following six months later.” By far the majority (3000 of a projected 5000) are expected to go to America, at prices beyond $50,000. As ever, Britons will pay more (not less than £40,000″ is the anticipation) for fully-equipped machines.
The 3-litre 24-valve V6 features variable valve timing which will also be seen in the American five-cylinder (perhaps Audi was right all along?) Accord, and an insider who has driven it reported: “The key element of the engine is its flexibility. From 1000 rpm it whangs around to 7500 incredibly quickly. I just don’t think they need the rumoured V8 at the moment. Also the V6 is easier for them to build in the immediate future…”
On a more practical and immediate note, expect Honda regularly to offer 100 bhp-per litre from its next generation of production four-valve-per-cylinder engines, which means one of our favourite small coupes, the 16v CRX, will offer 160 bhp in 1990 instead of the current 130 bhp. For those who cannot countenance CRX accommodation, the present 130 bhp unit is to be sold in the Civic saloon later this year in Britain, rather than remaining on a sporting special order basis.
Also new in Britain from Sporting Japan Inc in 1989 will be the £21,000 Mazda RX-7 Convertible. In turbocharged form the rotary wonder has a reported 200 bhp; Mazda expects it to join the 150 mph club. An ability to sprint from rest to 60 mph very swiftly should be familiar to Elford Turbo owners: “just over six seconds” is the claim.
Ferrari presented its enlarged V8 with radical new layout: the 32v dry-sumped block is now in-line, with a transverse gearbox behind, and the clutch on the back of the whole package. This is more compact than the transverse layout and has a lower centre of gravity. It appears first in the Mondial, RHD models of the new “t” (for “transverse”) version arriving in late July.
Ferrari’s 3405cc power-plant is designed to run on 95-octane unleaded fuel. It yields a healthy 300 bhp at 7200 revs, extracted via a Bosch Motronic ignition/fuel management system with the kind of compression ratio which used to be reserved for five-star — 10.4:1. Another 30 bhp over the 328 models has been obtained; the latter will get the new power-pack in the autumn.
Italy was also represented by the uniquely ugly Alfa Romeo ES 30 (Experimental Sportscar). Drafted by Robert Opron (formerly of Renault) and progressed “from idea to working prototype in just 19 months”, the ES 30 will be built at Zagato. Some 1000 examples are expected and nearly 40 have been ordered in Britain at an expected £40,000 plus.
For that money Alfa merely claims that the two-door 0.30 Cd body will reach the equivalent of 155 mph. The usual De Dion rear axle (race-modified with Uniball joints) will strain as owners research how far under the claimed seven seconds the ES 30 will conquer 60 mph.
Underneath plastic panels there is a basic steel frame and many of the features of the group A racing Alfa 75, particularly its suspension, said to be capable of creating a 1g cornering force on purpose-built Pirellis. A hilariously irresponsible video showed the ES 30 loose on the hillside roads of southern France, a g-meter flicking regularly to 0.9, whilst the Italian test driver (ex-Abarth man Giorgio Pianta, perhaps?) used all the road in the gloriously growling 210 bhp V6.
Also present in Geneva was the extraordinary Cizeta Moroder, with its midmounted 5995cc 90° V16 (yes, sixteen) for which 560 bhp (93 bhp per litre) is claimed at 8000 rpm. Maximum torque is reported as 398 lb ft at 6000 revs. The Modena-based factory is now apparently accepting orders at a list price beyond £156,250. The V 16T designation is accounted for because the 64-valve engine is transverse, with an in-line gearbox behind driven from the centre of the crank — the exact converse of Ferrari’s new layout.
GM’s ownership of Lotus was emphasised by credit given for the 32v Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1, an almost practical V12 Cadillac show car, and a production twinturbo Vauxhall Carlton 3000 (or Opel Omega GSi).
The Cadillac Solitaire follows a show-car tradition established by Cadillac’s experimental Osceola in 1905. A very smooth body (the cabin’s upper half is entirely in glass) is credited with a 0.28 drag factor, and features a practical interior with clear analogue instrumentation. GM employed Lotus to create its 6.6-litre, dohc per bank, 48-valve dozen; most definitely a runner, it is credited with 430 bhp and 4601b ft of torque.
Recalling Colin Chapman’s alliance of Lotus name and expertise with Ford’s Cortina, GM-Lotus unveiled the Lotus Omega. No production date or price for a projected 1000 examples has been given, but Lotus would be likely to build the car in Britain.
The basic hardware is a Vauxhall Carlton/ Opel Omega 3000 GSi; British examples would be badged “Lotus Carlton”. A mighty 376 lb ft of torque is forecast from the enlarged 3.6-litre straight-six, which features a pair of Garrett AiResearch turbos and intercoolers. GM forecasts 360 bhp from the Lotus dohc alloy-headed unit, which features the inevitable four-valve-per-cylinder arrangement and an 8.2:1 cr.
The most important GM-Lotus liason in production terms should be the ZR-1 Corvette. Discussions with Lotus, in the person of Tony Rudd, reportedly first broached the subject of four-valve technology in Spring 1985. Fitting the tough 5.7-litre Chevrolet V8 with 32-valve dohc heads (made by Mercury Marine) was preferred to turbocharging and other power enhancement techniques because GM wanted a comparatively fuel-efficient flagship. Thus 52-year old “Corvette Platform Chief Engineer” David McLellan knew that the 32v Corvette had to be about a lot more than massive horsepower. In fact, power claims are such a low priority that the GM publicity material skirts all round the subject. McLellan quotes 380 bhp at 6200 rpm, but the more significant factor is that the unit is credited with more than 300 lb ft of torque from 1000 to 5000 rpm. Maximum torque is 390lb ft at 5200 rpm.
Corvette ZR-1 performance encompasses 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds, standing quartermiles “well below 13 seconds and above 114 mph”. Fuel economy and part-throttle torque is assisted by a complex version of the controlled induction tracts which Toyota and Honda use on their multivalve designs: there are 16 induction tracts, and two fuel injectors for each cylinder. Preliminary tests show 18 mpg in city use, and 30 mpg on the highway, the ‘Vette needing only 1600 rpm to maintain 65 mph in sixth gear.
A short video clip showed a preproduction example bawling up to an indicated 163 mph on a stretch of motorway outside Geneva. The “widest ever” Goodyear 315/35 rubber at the rear, and the narrower fronts, are ZR-rated. Initial publicity indicates that Chevrolet is aiming for Porsche 595/Ferrari F40 country with 200 mph.
Electronics guide the six-speed ZF gearbox from first to fourth in selected lowspeed acceleration patterns, showing that this torquey motor does not require six gears; however, we can think of many hatchbacks which could use them…
In World Championship rallying, six speeds have become almost the norm, with Berkshire-based X-Trac supplying such units (plus 4WD and differential expertise) to Toyota, Mazda and GM EuroSport. However, neither the new 16v 200 bhp production version of the Lancia Delta Integrale nor the new supercharged 4WD Golf Rallye have six ratios. The Golf follows the Delta in having “quattro” style wheelarch extensions and LHD only. Lancia’s latest Delta is a proven world-class winner which now becomes more of a road car (complete with an ABS option) and less of a homologation special; the Golf is an unabashed 5000-off homologation run for competition.
That does not mean that the Golf is in any way a skimpy special. Build quality looks as good as ever, with steel wheelarch extensions, and the company has taken the opportunity of uprating the Syncro 4WD and installing the Passat/Corrado five-speed gearbox. The G-lader power-unit is from the Corrado coupe too, but its 160 bhp at 5600 rpm is extracted from 1763cc rather than Volkswagen’s usual sohc capacity of 1781cc. Now it can fit into a lower FISA class after the forced-induction multiplication handicap has been applied.
The Rallye Golf will be sold in Britain, but the first 2000 are earmarked for Germany so “don’t hold your breath waiting for it” was the executive advice we received. Lancia’s Delta Integrale in 16v trim (now claimed to reach 137 mph, with some of the extra 15 bhp traceable to a turbocharger change) should arrive in Britain during August 1989.
However, as with all shows, much of the most interesting information came outside the halls. For example, despite the plethora of Lotus-related announcements in alliance with GM or Goodyear (two active suspension saloons to be co-operatively developed alongside a new generation of tailor-made road tyres), the interest for most Motor Sport readers must be the forthcoming new Elan. The company had managed to keep the lines a secret until the show week, but Autocar & Motor snapped a D-registered example with a surprising and obvious lack of all but the most basic disguises.
Now we know the new Elan will be a fine-looking two-seater soft-top initial)y, but it is expected to be autumn before the FWD Isuzu-engined heir to one of the most honoured nameplates in sports motoring is unveiled. Will it overcome front-drive prejudice? Put it this way: if the practical Lotus development engineers (including former Lotus 72 and 4WD pilot John Miles) cannot make it feel better than the opposition, then today’s technology cannot provide the answer to high power through steered front wheels.
Also away from the show halls, an unexpected lakeside encounter with Audi board director for engineering, Jurgen Stockmar. Strolling in the sunlight on the eve of Press day, the quattro’s Geneva associations were natural subjects for discussion.
On a quiet walk I did not expect the brutal honesty with which this senior executive discussed latest developments. I had expected the usual “very nicely thank you” reply to a routine question about the postlaunch progress of the new Audi Coupes and their quattro cousins, but what I gained was an abrupt: “No, we are not satisfied with sales progress so far”. And a long pause whilst I digested this unlikely message from the top.
Stockmar smiled at my obvious surprise and added, “The press and first customers seem to see the quality. That is not the problem. We have succeeded in meeting our quality objectives. Customers also seem to appreciate the unique style, even if that is not an opinion shared by all Press, but there is a problem with the prices. Here there is definite resistance and this is something we are discussing inside the company. It is possible that, unlike most cases where you develop a car, we will take some equipment out, lowering prices rather than adding equipment every year, which is the normal case. We shall see…”
I checked new Coupe/quattro sales in Britain, which was the first market (including its motherland) to receive such Audis. Milton Keynes-based executives were obviously startled that LHD countries were not tucking hungrily into new Coupe supplies. I was told: “We have certainly sold out of our allotted 3000 and the forthcoming 20v can only help maintain the enthusiasm we have seen for this car. In fact it has outsold the cheaper old model, so far”.
On Press day I could see Audi’s turbocharged 20v 220 bhp five-cylinder appear publicly in the 200 saloon/Avant and original Quattro Coupe range. On an ironblock capacity of 2226cc (the same bore and stroke as four-cylinder Volkswagens), it combines routine Audi parts with many features of the monstrous 300 bhp Sport quattros. These include an aluminium crossflow cylinder-head whose four-valve layout bears the same 32mm diameter intake and 38mm exhaust valves as those of a Sport.
New 200 quattro compression ratios are unusually high for a turbocharged unit at 9.3:1, but moderate boost levels (0.83 bar over atmospheric) and current electronic fuelling,/ignition mangement mean that power and knock characteristics can be accurately and reliably maintained. Instead of the 300 bhp from 2.1 litres which the Sport offered in 1984, Audi has biased power delivery towards maximum torque (224 lb ft) at only 1950 rpm from this 2.2-litre. Maximum power represents 99 bhp per litre, 220 bhp at 5700 rpm on 95 octane unleaded petrol.
For a power perspective I read in Switzerland about the tiny 548cc Daihatsu Dangan ZZ which has introduced five-valves-per cylinder to car production lines, settings new high of 117 bhp per litre from its dohc turbocharged triple cylinders Unlike its new MS-X90 saloon, Daihatsu does not plan to export the “minicar with the mostest” but its 64 bhp at 7500 rpm must be fun in a 124.6in town roller-skate.
In the show halls, the Porsche 944 S2 Cabriolet looked nice enough to justify its “sold out until July” LHD production status. Jaguar, Rover, Aston Martin, Lotus (in its own right), AC (new Cobras with Ford blessing) and Caterham all flew the British flag with varying degrees of conviction.
Jaguar did not have anything new to announce, even though most had expected a decision on the production possibilities of the new Jaguar Sport-based XJ220. In fact, Jim Randle accepted an award from an Italian mayoress for the “Best Prototype” design of 1988 and we can look forward to an interesting Jaguar driving presentation in September.
Aston Martin’s Victor Gauntlett was there with the Virage, the Birmingham 1988 debutant “sold out until 1992”. Meanwhile, Ford-owned Aston grapples with the design and factory logistics needed to see it back in the slightly more affordable “DB4GT” area of the market, a project Gauntlett described as “very much on”. JW