A beautifully-appointed 120 m.p.h. GT car of considerable individuality
THE V.S.C.C. OuIton Park Week-End usually coincides with the testing of a good car and this year was no exception—I set off from the office on the Thursday in Fiat’s most exotic model, the twin-Weber six-cylinder 2300S coupé.
First impressions are entirely favourable, because this is a coupé, rather than a 2+2 GT car, which will carry four people in comfort and which is very nicely contrived and internally appointed.
The 2-door Ghia body has a somewhat restricted door opening, nor have the heavy doors efficient “keeps,” but once inside there are very comfortable separate front seats with squabs easily adjustable to very tine limits, from horizontal bed to upright, by the Keiper system, and upholstered in what appears to be fine leather but is actually a very realistic imitation of leathercloth. The facia is finished in matching material and is well instrumented without being in any way flamboyant. The minor controls are such that an owner of long-standing will be more at home with them than a tester of casual acquaintance, for the four press-buttons which control lamps, facia illumination, heater fan and wipers, although pictorially identified, are fumbly and could with advantage be wider spaced or separated by raised thumb holds, while the two heater quadrants, and the fresh-air-vent levers at each side of the scuttle, are invisible when sitting at the wheel and have to be felt for. Then the Nardi wood-rimmed steering wheel, pleasant to hold but a trifle high set, tends to obscure the dials placed before the driver, and these in any case tend to suffer from reflections in the grasses. Various other unlabelled controls have to be memorised, like the wipers rheostat, hand-throttle, panel and lights-on warning lamp rheostats, although choke knob and cigarette lighter are apparent.
There is an unusual “alarm clock” which buzzes a warning if the handbrake, which comes out from under the facia on the left of the steering wheel and needs a good pull to hold the car, is left on, if the hand-brake is left on, choke is left out at over 2,000 r.p.m., or the oil or water overheats, or if oil pressure fails. This can be startling or irritating, depending on length of acquaintance with the car, and can be disconnected if required, but is logical in the motorway age, where aural warning of impending calamity is preferable to peering at various warning lights.
Generally, control of the Fiat 2300S is conventional and commendable. The massive central, canted-rearwards gear lever is heavily spring-loaded to the high gears side of its invisible gate and goes fairly easily into reverse, which is beyond top-gear position. On the left of the steering column the usual Fiat twin stalks are found, the shorter one controlled the turn-indicators, the long one the headlamps dipped or full beam, with provision for flashing without turning on the lamps with the facia press-button, if the lever is pulled inward. The pedals are well placed and have hate-pivots, and normal screen wiping is supplemented by that excellent Fiat floor button which first washes, then wipes, the screen, although on the test car very heavy pressure was needed for the full performance and vital areas of the glass are out of range of the wiper blades. A knob in the steering wheel centre sounds a very Italian wind-horn, and soft vizors are provided which swivel and have a vanity mirror.
The Veglia instruments comprise a combined water thermometer-oil-pressure gauge, tachometer reading to 8,000 r.p.m. with the red sector from 6,000-8,000 r.p.m., an accurate clock, speedometer with trip and total distance recorders, and a combined oil thermometer/petrol gauge, but no ammeter, probably because an alternator replaces the less dependable dynamo. Various warning lights are present in the dials, labelled “Projec,” “Ventil” and “Generat” and a low-level light comes on when there are about four gallons of fuel left in the tank. Centrally, there is space for a radio, blanked by a plate informing one unnecessarily that one is in a Fiat 2300S coupé. A small but deep cubby-hole with lockable lid, which opens nicely, confronts the passenger. These are door arm-rests, with conventional pull-up door handles in front of them.
Much luxury is evident. For example, as an extra, the side windows can be electrically-controlled, from finger-switches on the console between the seats, which also incorporates the neat plated, lidded ash-tray. Alas, on the test car, the driver’s window needed manual persuasion to perform its electrickery and the emergency winding handle had to be put into use—the plated covers which are supposed to conceal the winding sockets hang untidy out from the door upholstery. Also, having proudly displayed these electric windows (when they are functioning correctly) it is rather an anti-climax to have to wind the 1/4-lights open or shut with awkward hand-screws, hard on the finger-nails. “Pulls” on the roof or front and back passengers pockets in the front-scat squabs; rear-window demisting, a lights-on tell-tale, rear de-mister tell-tale, openable rear window vents with efficient catches, elastic-topped door pockets, a big hand grip above the cubby hole, crash padding round the instrument nacelle, oddments stowage in the lid of the aforesaid ash-tray, under-bonnet and cubby-hole illumination, thick carpets, an adjustable footrest for the front-compartment passenger, folding rear-seat arm-rest, a very deep shelf behind the rear seat, red warning lamps on the trailing edges of the doors, separate turn-indicator warnings like miniature “neon” lamps but non-dazzling, dipping rear-view mirror, seat belts, steering-column lock, two-tone horn control, together with the aforesaid items, add up to very full equipment in this coupé, which is a handsome car except, perhaps, from full head-on. The doors shut quietly and possess sill-locks.
How the Fiat 2300S motors
Before commencing my journey the big unobstructed boot, lined with black carpet, was loaded, its lockable lid opening easily and being self-supporting, while the bonnet, the light forward-hinged panel of which has to be propped up, was opened to reveal the interesting alloy-head engine with inclined o.h.v. operated by push-rods, the two Weber 38DCOE/16 and 17 carburetters each supplying three cylinders, by-pass and centrifugal oil filters, and 6-branch exhaust manifold. There is a thermosstatically-controlled electro-magnetic cooling fan and the twin brake servos for the all-disc braking system are reassuring.
The initial impressions of driving the Fiat 2300S are of good forward visibility through the wide screen, a good driving position, and play-free high-geared steering (3 1/4-turns, lock-to-lock) which is accurate and rather heavy, with some shake and sway, and not much castor-return, while the gear change is smooth, rapid and precise, but heavy in typically Italian fashion. The clutch is heavy and the long pedal travel meant that, as I am rather short in the legs although of average height, I had to sit closer to the wheel than I wanted to. Seat belts were provided, incidentally.
The engine is noisy when idling, suggesting elaborate valve gear and wide tappet clearances, and showed zero oil pressure when ticking over at a fast 1,000 r.p.m. Opened up, there is some power-roar from the intakes as the Fiat hustles through the traffic, attracting admiring glances from those overtaken. Oil pressure goes up with engine-speed to a reassuring 28 to 60 lb./sq. in, and oil temperature does not exceed about 100ºF., normally registering 70ºF. Water heat is normally 175ºF.—curious to find Fahrenheit calibrations on a Continental car. I did not have an opportunity to take acceleration figures but understand, on good authority, that 0-60 m.p.h. occupies 10 1/2 sec., 100 m.p.h. coming up in 35 sec. from rest, and that a s.s. 1/4-mile is disposed of in 18.2 sec. The car is high geared, needing care with the clutch and some time to get into its stride, and calling for a change-down on even mild gradients, but top is possible down to 20 m.p.h. This must be related to a laden weight of nearly 30 cwt., a power output of 150 (gross) b.h.p. at 5,600 r.p.m., torque of 145 lb./ft. at 4,000 r.p.m. and an axle ratio of 3.63 to 1.
The engine, noisy as I have said, is very smooth right up to 6,000 r.p.m. (which gives maxima in the lower gears of 37, 62 and 87 m.p.h.) and gives ample power, so that normally 5,000 r.p.m. in the gears suffices.
Glancing at the speedometer, it was never far from “the ton” on clear roads, but it was disappointing to discover later that an indicated 100 m.p.h. represented a true speed of only 88 m.p.h. and a big black mark must be given to Fiat for this deception.
On M1 and later on an entirely deserted M5, a speed of 128 m.p.h. was. held, equal to 6,400 r.p.m. In fact, some calculation shows this to have been, in fact, 119.4 m.p.h., assuming the tachometer wasn’t also optimistic. In fact, 120 is the top speed of the car.
Handling is enjoyable to experience but difficult to describe. The Fiat goes through corners securely if a bit ponderously, roll very well controlled, the suspension comfortable without being “dead.” Great confidence was built up by the wet-road adhesion, the British-made Pirelli Cinturato tyres giving excellent grip and hanging on extremely well when the tail was hung out round fast bends in the rain. The brakes, too, although haying a spongy feel, are very powerful for emergency use, although then considerable “push” is called for in spite of the twin servos. There is a pressure regulator which in theory obviates locked back wheels. The Carello headlamps give a good driving light.
I was in it hurry most of the time I had the Fiat and it really came into its own after the enjoyable V.S.C.C. meeting at Oulton Park, when it took my wife and me back to Hampshire in 4 hr. 20 min., in spite of adding some eleven unnecessary miles to the distance by using the M5. This was without trying unduly hard and being very circumspect in the pottering Saturday evening traffic. It completed this long journey and many miles more without refuelling—just as well, because time is lost while pump attendants fumble with the locked filler flap. On a run of this sort this Fiat gives fatigue-free motoring, accomplished very enjoyable in this safe-feeling, unobtrusive, individualistic car. Driven thus, it gave 15.9 m.p.g. and seemed happy on premium petrol. A really hard cross-country run dropped this to 15 m.p.g., an average of 15.4 m.p.g. After 1,000 fast miles scarcely any oil had been used. An owner who tried the test car declared that it was a typical example but with better damping than his own car possessed, the shock-absorbers haying been recently replaced. But he gets about 20 m.p.g.
I have heard this well-made Fiat 2300S coupé described as poor value compared with the faster, lighter-to-drive Jaguar E-type, and inferior in road-holding to the Lotus Elan. The proper assessment, I think, is that, if it isn’t quite a GT car, neither is it a sports car. As a well-built and practically-equipped 2/4-seater coupé it has a very definite place in the motoring scheme of things and is as comfortable as the little Fiat 500D is useful. Of course, the savage Import Duty, added to Purchase Tax, makes the Fiat 2300S an expensive luxury in England, where it sells at £2,944—but, remember, the basic price is £2,435. The Ghia body is a high-grade production although the finish was flaking in the n/s. rain gutter after a milage of apparently 14,000. Those who appreciate 120-m.p.h. cars which possess much character, plenty of performance, go well with motorway driving and are pleasant to control and contemplate will not let the cost of this interesting, Italian product deter them from trying, and probably owning one. As, I believe, do such experienced drivers of different generations as Maurice Falkner and Paul Fréré—W.B.
The Fiat 2300S Ghia coupé
Engine: Six cylinders, 78 x 79.5 mm. (2,279 c.c. Inclined overhead valves operated by push-rods and rockers. 9.5-to-1 c.r. 150 (gross) b.h.p. at 5,600 r.p.m.
Gear ratios: First, 11.67 to 1; second, 6.98 to 1; third, 5.11 to 1; top, 3.63 to 1.
Tyres: 165 x 15 Pirelli Cinturato, on bolt-on steel disc wheels.
Weight: 25.4 cwt. (kerb weight).
Steering ratio:3 1/2 turns, lock-to-lock.
Fuel capacity: 151 gallons (Range : approx. 238 miles).
Wheelbase: 8. ft. 9 1/4 in.
Track: Front, 4 ft. 5 1/4 in; rear, 4 ft. 3 1/4 in.
Dimensions: 15 ft. 1 1/2 in. x 5 ft. 5 in. x 4 ft. 5 1/2 in. (high).
Price: £2,435 (£,2,944 inclusive of p.t.) Electric windows extra.
Makers: S. A. Fiat, Turin, Italy.
Concessionnaires: Fiat (England) Ltd., Water Road, Wembley, Middlesex.