The Editor enjoys again the sparkling performance of the Fiat 1500, approves of the improvements Connaught have made to the Citroen ID, and goes very quickly from place to place in a Morris Mini-Cooper “S”.
Rather more than a year ago I wrote enthusiastically about that splendid Italian family car, the Fiat 1500. It is a car with very complete and modern equipment, well suspended, quiet-running, adequately (disc) braked, and endowed with quite breath-taking acceleration and a maximum speed of over 90 m.p.h. These are factors that combine to render this Fiat 1500 with its Lampredi-designed high-efficiency 77 x 79 1/2 mm. 4-cylinder 80 (S.A.E.) b.h.p. engine a very covetable car. Coming back to it, over a year after my initial captivation, I think perhaps the most impressive aspect of this modern-looking dual-headlamp 4-door saloon is the easy manner in which it motors, accelerating fiercely to a subdued but satisfactorily “hard” note from the power unit if a lower gear has been selected with the precise l.h. steering column gear-lever, but picking up speed if I can be permitted the expression “enthusiastically,” in the 4.1 to 1 top gear.
To this very acceptable ease of running can be added an excellent driving position, a steering wheel clear of any obstructions and at exactly the right angle, generous-size pedals well located, controlling light responsive steering gear, and suspension that is the antithesis of “dead,” yet which gives a notably comfortable ride, with roll properly subdued during rapid cornering.
The only major criticism I had last year when I wrote a full road-test report on the car (Motor Sport, March 1962) was that the rear wheels broke away rather too readily on wet roads. It appears that Fiat, having adopted 5.60 x 13 tyres for this fast 1500, had misgivings about their vulnerability for autostrada motoring and that the original covers fitted were better from the unburstability factor than for grip. Now nylon Pirelli Extraflex tyres are used and although on abnormally greasy roads this rear-end skittishness is still apparent, and over the more severe undulations the leaf-spring located back-axle likes to attempt to deflect the car, on normal rain-washed roads the Fiat 1500 goes through the corners as well as any conventionally sprung r.w.d. car and a good deal better than many.
Since I originally drove this very desirable Fiat an electromagnetic radiator fan has been incorporated, which engages only if a temperature-rise calls for its services. This cannot fail to give a slight improvement in performance and although a week’s motoring, during which I covered nearly 1,000 miles, did not permit the taking of fifth-wheel acceleration figures, I have no compunction in comparing those I recorded in 1962 with those we obtained recently for the Ford Consul Cortina GT. They are:—
M.P.H. – 1962 Fiat 1500 (1,481 c.c.) (sec.) – 1963 Ford Cortina GT (1,498 c.c.) (sec.)
0-30: 4.3 – 3.8
0-40: 6.7 – 6.4
0-50: 10.1 – 10.4
0-60: 14.6 – 14.0
0-70: 21.9 – 19.0
0-80: 32.2 – 27.6
If you are wondering why the Fiat goes so commendably, look at the engine, with its 8.8 to 1 c.r. alloy head, ingenious push-rod valve gear, Weber 28/36 dual-choke carburetter, and the efficient inlet and exhaust manifolding. The gearbox has synchromesh on all four forward speeds and the brakes, not abnornially powerful but very firm and sure, are disc on the front wheels with three cylinders applying the pads. Eight fuses, accessible on the bulkhead, protect the 12-volt electrical system.
The Fiat 1500 has lots of likeable, essentially practical features. The fuel tank, filled via a well made lockable cap that accepts the filler spout of a spare can, holds 10-gallons and its contents are indicated by a gauge and a warning light. The luggage boot is deep and wide and its interior is lit automatically when the side-lamps are on. The lid is spring-loaded, and lockable. The seats, although not particularly comfortable, have squabs that recline to form beds, the action very tolerant and having microscopic adjustment.
There are safety, under-the-arm-rests interior door handles, neat push-in external handles beneath convenient finger grips, and sill internal locks, the doors closing nicely. The bonnet opens forward and there is illumination of the “engine room.”
The Fiat’s facia contains a great many coloured indicator lights— for fuel contents, lamps alight, dynamo charge, indicators, oil pressure, choke on and handbrake on—a legacy from the days of the o.h.c. Fiat 509 which, when introduced in 1925, pioneered a blue warning light for dynamo charge and a red light for lack of oil pressure in lieu of the then-customary ammeter and dial gauge. (This gives me an excuse to publish a picture of one of these well-proportioned vintage cars!) It is really quite simple; if all is well, when the engine is running no red lights will appear.
The other minor controls are well contrived, with facia-sill push-buttons for wipers, heater fan, lamps selection and instrument lighting. Headlamps dipping is controlled by a long r.h. steering-column stalk, the direction flashers by an upper, short r.h. stalk. A full horn-ring sounds dual-tone horns. Dials show fuel contents and water temperature, and the heater controls are simple and unobtrusive. The horizontal ribbon-type speedometer is calibrated in figures in steps of 20 m.p.h., so that when you think you are doing 75 m.p.h. you are, in fact, motoring at 80.
The reason why I regard the Fiat 1500 as outstandingly generous in equipment is because it has much appreciated items like rheostat control of instrument lighting and the parking lamps indicator light intensity, provision for daylight headlamps flashing, a lead-lamp holder under the bonnet, total and trip with decimal mileometres, soft vizors with vanity mirror, roof “pulls,” a hand-throttle separate from the choke, cigarette lighter, steering column lock, reversing lamp, anti-glare rear-view mirror, two separate interior lamps with their own switches and courtesy action, and that excellent foot-operated wiper-cum-washers control. The screen wipers are particularly efficient, their blades overlapping to clean the centre of the screen, but the sides of the screen remain obscured by rain. There is plenty of storage space within the car— divided door pockets on all doors, a reasonable-size cubby hole and an under-facia map tray which, although unlipped, never sheds its contents in the front passenger’s lap. The test car had safety belts. I now await readers’ lists of better-equipped cars at comparative basic prices!
There is no need to write more about a car that I regard as one of the best-equipped and most deserving-to-drive family cars in the World, because I described it in last year’s full road-test report. It only remains to add that I found the latest Fiat 1500 even more economical than the earlier version–30.1 m.p.g. of good but not 100-octane petrols, and an infinitesimal amount of oil consumed in 988 fast-run miles. To be fair, faults should be ennumerated; The hand-brake lever remains on the wrong side of the transmission tunnel on r.h.d. cars and heavy rain penetrated the rubber defences of the 1/4-lights, which lack gutters. There are rather a lot of lubrication points calling for pretty frequent attention but engine longevity is ensured by the well-known Fiat centrifugal oil filter and supplementing by-pass filter. Having said that, I must return to avidly praising this excellent product of Turin. The reason you do not encounter more of these 1500s on British roads is presumably a matter of import duty inflating the price, but I still regard the saloon at £949 2s. 1d. and the estate car at £1,136 7s. 11d. as jolly good value tor such enjoyable motoring. The Fiat Service Organisation in this country seems to be expanding all the time. Incidentally, this is one of the few cars which can be had with an automatic clutch if desired. It continued Fiat’s irritating habit of displaying a “Running-In” sticker on the back window of their Press cars, which must have demoralised the Jaguar E-type (lady driver) that I disposed of on the Cricklade-Newbury road!
The modern Citroëns, DS and ID, are excellent cars for long, fast journeys, which they accomplish in commendable comfort. But there is a certain lack of “steam” about the rather antiquated 4-cylinder engine, although, like VW, Citroën are noted for many worthwhile improvements from time to time without any announcement, so that the 1,911-c.c. engine in its present DS form, with inclined o.h. valves, ingeniously actuated by push-rods from a “downstairs” camshaft, the inlet valves noticeably larger than the exhaust valves, is a much better power unit than many people realise. This is appreciated when the cylinder head is examined.
Connaught Cars (1959) Ltd., of Send, on the Portsmouth Road, in Surrey, have, however, sought to increase the urge of the Citroën and endow it with other improvements. Personal experience convinces me that they have succeeded.
So far as the engine is concerned, they lighten the flywheel by some 15 lb., convert to twin carburetters, and raise the c.r. to 8.4 to 1 from the normal 7.5 to t. The head is also gas-flowed and polished, and stronger valve springs raise the rev. limit to 6,400 r.p.m. The carburetters can be Solex or S.U. to choice, the former preferable if absolute speed is the aim, the latter giving marginally better acceleration.
The manner in which the twin carburetters are applied to an engine in which a single carburetter normally feeds through the head, after two water inspection plates have been discarded, is distinctly ingenious and the work of a craftsman, so I hope the accompanying illustration by the Motor Sport artist makes it clear how this is contrived.
Apart from the engine the Connaught Citroën embodies other mods. It is basically the ID but uses the better-equipped DS facia and dashboard (incorporating that futile cubby-hole) and the steering-column manual gear-lever of the ID, which is a substantial l.h. stalk selecting the four forward gears, and reverse, with somewhat ponderous precision.
The “button” brake pedal of the DS is retained, but with the ID under-facia hand-brake lever, with its locking thumb-screw. Connaught install their own power steering, which is light, sensitive and an improvement on Citroën power steering because it is less fussy, although still too heavy at near-zero m.p.h. when parking. The big single-spoke safety steering wheel with its sweat-absorbing taped rim has been abandoned in favour of a much smaller Stirling Moss-signed wood-rim wheel.
Some drivers like the arms-full-stretch stance which this non-dished wheel affords but personally I do not think this justifies the change. Incidentally, the single spoke of the Citroën steering wheel is usually ascribed to safe collapse of the wheel in a crash but was it also contrived to enable the driver to reach through the wheel when using the awkwardly-located lever that controls the DS gear-change?
The comfortable bench front seat normally found in Citroëns is removed in favour of Microcell adjustable-squab bucket seats, hard but snug, with Brooks inertia red-type safety belts. This “improvement” likewise failed to impress me. But on the road the Connaught Citroën is an improved car. The engine still has to be wound-up in the gears to give any sort of performance, but taken to about 5,800 r.p.m. (a tachometer is an optional extra, along with radio, centre arm-rest-cum-glove locker and door pockets) acceleration and top speed are considerably improved. The actual performance figures, checked by electric speedometer, of a Solex-carburetted car were:—
Acceleration: 0-30 m.p.h.: 4.9 sec.
0-40 m.p.h.: 7.8 sec.
0-50 m.p.h.: 11.5 sec.
0-60 m.p.h.: 15.8 sec.
0-70 m.p.h.: 23.6 sec.
0-80 m.p.h.: 31.2 sec.
S.S. 1/4 mile: 20 sec.
Speeds in gears: 1st, 35 m.p.h.; 2nd, 63 m.p.h.; 3rd, 94 m.p.h.; top, 105 m.p.h.
Power is saved by a Kenlowe thermostatic fan and the extra urge is generated unobtrusively, probably on account of the additional sound proofing which Connaught Cars fit. Nor is fuel consumption adversely affected. In ordinary motoring about I obtained 25.5 m.p.g., which compares with 26.6 m.p.g. from a normal DS. This improved Citroën is sold as a complete entity, not in conversion-kit form, the price being £1,597 19s. 7d., inclusive of a water gauge but not the aforesaid optional extras. It makes a very worthwhile fast tourer, and experience of it confirmed my opinion that Citroën has practically all the answers to safe, comfortable fast touring. The Connaught version is distinguishable by stainless steel strips along the body sides but I wish they wouldn’t put on those GT motifs.
Having used a Morris Mini-Minor for three years and derived much enjoyment from road-testing the Mini-Cooper when it was still on B.M.C.’s secret list, I looked forward to trying the latest Morris Mini-Cooper S-type, which came along, rather late, for our appraisal.
I had heard hints from Alec Issigonis as long ago as last winter about a more potent Mini-Cooper and I imagine it was formulated to meet the expected challenge from the Ford Lotus-Cortina, which we are still awaiting, but which is being so effectively prefaced by the Ford Consul Cortina GT. At all events, this newest Mini-Cooper has the short-stroke, “oversquare” 70.6 x 68.3 mm. (1,071 c.c.) B.M.C. engine with special valve gear and a strengthened 3-bearing crankshaft, which, using a 9-to-1 c.r. pokes out no less than 70 b.h.p. It develops this useful output at the same engine speed, 6,000,r.p.m., as the older Cooper engine required to produce its maximum of 55 b.h.p.
Naturally, this results in quite exceptional performance from this compact little car, which, incidentally, we are so apt to take for granted that its highly ingenious Issigonis/Moulton features of all-round rubber independent suspension, transverse engine and sump-located gearbox tend to be overlooked.
To ensure no loss of reliability or safety the Mini-Cooper “S” is endowed with a modified 7 1/8-in. dia. clutch, operated hydraulically, and larger 7 1/2-in. front disc brakes actuated through a 5 1/2-in. Hydrovac booster. The modifications to the engine, expressed in greater detail, encompass a larger diameter crankshaft, Nimonic steel for the valves and special con.-rods with floating gudgeon-pins. The wheels are shod with 5.50 in. x 10 in. tubed Dunlop SP tyres. Alternative gear ratios are offered, providing a choice of 12.04, 7.21, 5.10 and 3.76 to 1; 11.02, 6.59, 4.67 and 3.44 to 1; 9.66, 6.70, 4.67 and 3.76 to 1; or 8.84, 6.13, 4.27 and 3.44 to 1. That the latest Mini-Cooper “S,” which does not supersede the existing Austin/Morris Mini-Coopers, is intended primarily as a competition car is obvious from the listed optional extras, which include a 5 1/2-gallon auxiliary fuel tank, an oil-cooler and a sump guard.
Yet, on the road, this little power-pack remains a docile motorcar, quite suitable for normal motoring. One of the surprises I got when I first drove a Mini-Cooper was this unexpected docility —the excellent balance between good acceleration and civilised step-off, between ultra-powerful brakes and sensitive, wet-road retardation. This quality is upheld in the S-series, is even emphasised by the almost luxurious Mini-Cooper interior and a flecked upholstery and trim more suitable for a lady’s boudoir than the inside of a rally car!
The oval centre instrument panel contains a 100-m.p.h. speedometer, water-temperature gauge and oil-pressure gauge. There are the usual useful Mini interior stowages, the improved lever-type internal door handles, sliding side windows, and that uninspired stick-type gear-lever.
The little car undoubtedly goes. Indeed, on our test track, timed by electric speedometer, it returned the following performance figures:-
Acceleration: 0-30 m.p.h.: 3.8 sec. (best time: 3.6 sec.)
0-40 m.p.h.: 6.5 sec. (6.4 sec.)
0-50 m.p.h.: 9.3 sec. (9.1 sec.)
0-60 m.p.h.: 11.9 sec. (11.7 sec.)
0-70 m.p.h.: 16.9 sec. (16.8 sec.)
0-80 m.p.h.: 22.5 sec. (22.4 sec.)
S.S. 1/4 mile: 18.7 sec. (18.6 sec.)
Speeds in gears: 1st, 34 m.p.h.; 2nd, 57 m.p.h.; 3rd, 80 m.p.h.; 4th, 92 m.p.h.
For rushing from place to place it is about as fast as any normal fast car you can think of. It does these speeds safely and unobtrusively. It corners very fast but untidily, requiring the driver to work quite hard. The brakes are quite powerful but rather sudden.
I was disappointed in the feel of this Mini-Cooper on corners, because it oversteered when I expected it to understeer and felt as if the back-end wanted t roll and breakaway. The ride was also very lively, so that in deference to my passengers I cornered less rapidly than I would otherwise have done and slowed down for bad roads. Others drivers confirmed this. We experimented with different pressures in the SP tyres. But the cornering never felt quite right, although with the power well and truly on the old Mini understeer returned and it was discovered that very fast but hardly precise cornering could be indulged in.
I was never able to decide whether the rather knobbly SP tyres had some bearing on this feeling of inherent instability, where all the other B.M.C. Mini and 1100 cars I have driven have felt superbly stable, or whether 70 b.h.p, is about as much power as it is desirable to transmit through 10-in. front wheels. No doubt readers better acquainted with the Mini-Cooper “S” will have intelligent comments on this. The heater objected to being turned off, which was unpleasant in humid weather.
Otherwise, I found this £695 sports/racing saloon very good value. The gear-change remains notchy, so that brutality results if a lower ratio is required urgently before a corner, and the clutch is heavy and sudden. Oil consumption was excessive–4 pints in 1,000 miles—but each gallon of 100-octane petrol lasted an average of 33.3 miles. The range, without the auxiliary tank, is therefore only about 170 miles, but twin tanks double this, which should satisfy the rally boys.
The B.M.C. minibric is as much part of the motoring scene as the original-style Austin Seven was three decades back, and the Mini-Cooper “S” is a very acceptable fast version which Mini addicts are bound to enjoy and enthuse over.