Matters of moment, August 1965



Wankel confidence

When anything revolutionary is introduced one of the biggest obstacles to its adoption is persuading a suspicious public that it works. Nothing is more revolutionary than the N.S.U. single-plug Wankel engine. Ten years were spent on its development. We were allowed to try it round Goodwood. We have since been allowed to drive an N.S.U. Wankel Spider as we drive other road-test cars, a convincing token of the faith the makers have in this rotary power unit. Indeed, you can buy just such a car in this country for £1,391—pictures on page 660.

We do not propose to publish a full road-test report on this interesting N.S.U., because the car itself is normal Spider, and because its price at present is such as to imply that confidence in the Wankel; rather than sales from Hammersmith, is the present aim.

Our experience of the car has proved unquestionably the practicability of the Wankel engine, which is a prompt starter, dependable, smooth above 2,000 r.p.m., quiet, and economical on fuel consumption. No instruction book was provided and the spare Beru sparking plug remained in the cubby-hole. The tachometer is coloured to suggest 5,000 r.p.m. as the normal rev.-limit, it being permissible to go to 6,000 r.p.m. lighter speeds wear the seals, although the Wankel is quite happy to run up to 8,060 r.p.m. It gave the very creditable overall fuel consumption of 52 m.p.g. Oil consumption was unduly heavy, at approx. 120 miles per pint of Castrol XL, the lubrication method being on the total-loss system. This seems to be the Wankel’s only short-coming, for the Spider, with a top speed of 99 m.p.h., 70 in third gear and s.s. 1/2-mile acceleration in 20 sec., has true sportscar performance, especially if its capacity, a controversial subject, is regarded as representing a litre of swept volume.

Another pleasing aspect of this excitingly new and different vehicle was the fact that, apart from the word “Wankel” in small letters on the rear air-intake cap, the fiercely-squealing brakes drew far more attention to it than the unusual engine! A water radiator is now necessary, incidentally, in a range of N.S.U.s otherwise air-cooled.

We congratulate N.S.U. Motorenwerke of Neckarsulm on their display of confidence in the unconventional Wankel engine. We have had a very brief drive in the Chrysler gas-turbine car, but you cannot go to the British agent and buy one. Rover haven’t let us drive their gas-turbine car. In fact, an engineer/writer of our acquaintance asked if he could drive the Le Mans Rover back from the circuit to the coast after this year’s race; the Rover engineers thought this a chance of some worthwhile publicity but the redtape proved too restrictive to sever. N.S.U. are certainly well ahead of the gas-turbine developers in displaying quiet confidence in their solution to the abolition of reciprocating parts. It is time, surely, for the mystique to be removed from gas-turbine automobiles?

A topical suggestion

Now that Scotland Yard, the police and the prison officials are in dire trouble over another escaped train-robber, we humbly suggest that those in power should ease up on the persecution of motorists, who on the whole drive very well, doing their best to cope with our archaic roads.

We suggest that petty parking snoops and speed traps be, at all events temporarily, abolished. The inability of the police to find the escaped prisoners and the millions of unfound loot or capture the undetected robbers has reduced public confidence to a-dangerously low Ievel. To find able-bodied men operating dubious radar apparatus at such a time, in an endeavour to apprehend drivers doing a few m.p.h. over 30 along straight roads, is likely to do further serious harm to the public’s regard for the Force. Rate-payers may well ask why they should foot the cost of bringing into Court non-criminals of this calibre, with all the waste of police and Magistrates’ time this entails.

We cannot believe the police themselves enjoy performing speed-trap duties (except at notorious death-spots), especially with real criminals to be sought. So we appeal, not very confidently, to the authorities to give drivers a break. Unless, of course, they regard those of us caught driving at 35/40 m.p.h. as more reprehensible than armed robbers. . . .

. . . Fiat fuel economy

On page 680 there is reference to the remarkable fuel economy attained by an expert from a Fiat 500D. This was no duke, for at Silverstone on Total Test Day Gordon Wilkins, in a “no-holdsbarred” run, achieved an incredible 124.32 m.p.g. from a normal Fiat 500D, and at Brands Hatch members of the Maidstone & Mid-Kent M.C. drove the same Fiat for some five hours round the circuit at an average speed of over 30 m.p.h., and recorded 68 m.p.g.

In normal use these popular and reliable little cars do not give quite such fantastic economy. But they are extremely conserving of petrol. In fact, Britain’s balance-of-payments must surely benefit, for every pound spent on buying Fiat 500s from Italy will be saved in dollars expended on the fuel they burn so sparingly!