A collection of new and revised machinery
The Alfetta GT
In my road test of the Alfa Romeo Alfetta saloon in the June issue of Motor Sport I was a trifle schizoid about it: this front engine, rear-wheel-drive car with five-speed gearbox and clutch in unit with the differential and a de Dion rear axle has many outstanding attributes and a few drawbacks, such as a driving position which might have been designed for chimpanzees, and rapid rear-end breakaway in the wet. I headed for the Grosseto region of Italy, north of Rome, a couple of months ago to test the new coupe version, the Alfetta GT, hopeful that my criticisms of the saloon would have been eradicated from the GT design, but alas they had not.
The result of the joint labours of Giorgetto Giugiaro and Alfa’s own design team is most beautiful to look at and because of a combination of slightly less weight and uprated suspension feels tauter than the saloon, rolling less and in particular having lost most of that slightly annoying sway of the Alfetta. But quite astonishingly, the driving position has not been modified, so that I must reiterate my major complaint about the saloon. Nearly all the journalists who tried the car in Italy with me were of the same opinion—and they came in all shapes, sizes and sexes. Curiously, the only two I encountered who were happy with the driving position were not the misshapen dwarfs I would have expected them to have been. The addition of a quite brilliant piece of mechanism to raise and lower the height of the driving seat (pushing or pulling a lever while remaining in the seat) has done nothing to cure the basic problem of misplaced pedals.
Another bone of contention which made its debut on the GT is the big and lonely tachometer placed directly in front of the driver, ideally placed, you might say, for judiciously controlling the willingness to rev of the 140 b.h.p., twin overhead camshaft, 1,779 c.c. engine. But would you really expect the speedometer, nowadays, with speed limits rife throughout Europe, undoubtedly the most critical instrument, to be placed centrally in the facia, necessitating a deliberate, lengthy removal of the eyes from the road to see it, as we found when we were followed by a police jeep for twenty kilometres of 100 k.p.h. restrictions ? Mechanically the GT is identical to the saloon—the same rear axle/transmission arrangement, same engine, same gearbox and final drive ratios and so on, but the wheelbase is 4 in. shorter. The excellent aerodynamics, incorporating a pronounced front spoiler and tiny rear one on the lift-up tailgate, have resulted in a claimed 5 m.p.h. improvement in top speed (roughly 116 m.p.h.), the gearchange on “my” car was abominable, the steering delightful, initial understeer less pronounced than in the saloon, but the shift from understeer to oversteer could be a little ragged, particularly if upset by bumps. Brakes were excellent except under continual duress, the rear seats just about adequate for two adults, upholstery beautiful and the boot deep. It will cost at least £3,000 when it appears on the British market in the Autumn and will have to contend with the similarly aimed Lancia Beta coupe which at least has a driving position designed for human beings.
Much improved Fiat 132
When it replaced the well-loved 125 series a couple of years ago, the Fiat 132 met much bitter criticism, initially from journalists and subsequently from customers—who didn’t buy it in the numbers expected. Fiat too, reacted, bravely admitting and taking note of the criticisms, particularly relating to its handling, and finally announcing a Mk. II version of it which I was able to try recently for a weekend trip from London to Deauville, northern France. I will not dwell too much on this car for the Editor is about to conduct a road test of it, but I must say that it impressed me as much as that last 132 disappointed me. It is available in 1600 GL (with four-speed gearbox), 1600 GLS and 1800 GLS (both with five-speed gearbox) forms, and a GMS automatic transmission may be specified for the 1800 GLS. Apart from slight modifications to the inlet side, the willing twin overhead camshaft 98 b.h.p. 1,592 c.c. and 107 b.h.p. 1,755 c.c. engines are unchanged, but the five-speed gearboxes have a slightly lower overdrive fifth to improve motorway performance. The most important improvements are to the suspension: a front anti-roll bar has been added, progressive-action dampers fitted, wider, 5-1/2 J wheels accept 185/70 SR 13 tyres (of various makes) and new spherical steering joints are quite justifiably claimed to give lighter and more precise steering. Subtly Fiat designers have made the 132 much more attractive simply by lowering the waistline, thus increasing side and rear window area, fitting new rear lamps incorporating reversing lights and adding a guard strip round the sides of the GLS, which has a new, fourheadlamp grille too. These cars are most tastefully appointed inside, proved exceptionally comfortable four-up, coped admirably with atrocious French roads at over 100 m.p.h. and handled and held the road excellently with much better balance and far less roll than the wallowy old 132. I would recommend this new 132 as a most pleasing, fast and smooth family saloon—but I found it hard to decide whether the 1800 was significantly better than the 1600 (both with the superb five-speed stumpy lever) which I drove the same weekend. The 1600 GL is £1,590, the 1600 GLS £1,790 and the 1800 GLS £1,889.
Sportier Mercedes 280E
Mercedes seem to be having a go at the sporting image of BMW with a higher performance version of the 280E, or so it would seem from the Press release which uses terms such as “executive express” and “We call it our getaway car”, typical statements of BMW’s Anton Hille and his advertising copywriters. The extra performance is extracted not by further modifications to the 2.8-litre, fuel injected, 185 b.h.p. DIN twin-cam straight-six engine, but by the adoption of a ZF five-speed gearbox in place of the previously standard automatic. Power steering is added to the standard specification, as is a set of alloy wheels sculptured similarly to those fitted as an option to the 450SL tested in the May issue of Motor Sport; these are said to add an extra half-inch of rim width, to give 6 in. though our file Press release for the ordinary 280E gives the width of its steel wheels as 6 in. too. No mention of any other improvements is made, but the price of £5,736 is £760 more than is asked for the ordinary 124 m.p.h. 280E.
The Mini matures (a little more)
We know that progress is occasionally slow (even sometimes retrogressive) within British Leyland, but should it really have required 15 years for the Mini (other than the later twin-tanked Cooper S’s) to acquire a larger petrol tank ? An increase in fuel capacity from 5.5 gallons to 7.5 gallons is one of the improvements made to the 1275 GT as part of a revision of the entire Mini range, but the rest of the range retains the small tank. Perhaps more significant on the 1275 GT is a change from the familiar 10 in. “roller skate” wheels to 12 in. diameter wheels, a change which has been made possible by the availability of low profile 70 series 145 section, 12 in. diameter Dunlop SP Sport tyres. Not only should this improve roadholding, handling and tyre wear (the rolling radius is 5-1/2 per cent greater), it has allowed at long last an increase in the size of the front disc brakes from 7.5 in to 8.4 in diameter, something which Cooper S owners of yesteryear, including myself, would have welcomed.
Revised carburation on all models is said to reduce exhaust emission and give extra power from the 850 and 1000 engines. A twin silencer exhaust system, previously fitted to the 1275 GT only, is now standard across the range, as is a redesigned cooling fan and shroud to reduce the buzziness. The 1000, Clubman and 1275 GT have improved quality carpeting.
Trickett’s pet Llama
That irrepressible designer Neville Trickett has trapped a new animal for his Siva Motor Car Company Ltd. to breed at Gatehouse Industrial Estate, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. The Llama is a “go anywhere” utility vehicle, claimed to be a slightly more advanced version of the Mini-Moke, based on Chrysler running gear using an 875 c.c. Imp. engine to drive the rear wheels. It is available in open, passenger or van forms, runs on 12 in. wheels shod with Dunlop Town and Country tyres (13 in. wheels are optional), has self-coloured GRP coachwork mounted on a steel chassis, is capable of carrying 600 lb, has a claimed top speed of 80 m.p.h. and a potential 45 m.p.g. fuel consumption and costs from £1,150. Trickett’s “Edwardian replica” Siva as featured in “Dr. Who”, continues in production. It is interesting to read that George A. Mower, the grandfather of Siva’s Chairman, Robert Paterson MA (Cantab), produced the Iris (it runs in silence) car on the site of the present Bifurcated Engineering works at Aylesbury, of which company Paterson is a director, but the period in which this range of cars from 15.8 h.p. fours to 40 h.p. sixes was built there from parts produced in Willesden was 1909 to 1915, not the 1920s, as Siva would have us believe in their Press release.
More luxury for the Beta
An integral, steel sliding roof, electrically operated windows on all doors, tinted glass all round and Cromodora light alloy wheels have been added by Lancia to the already impressive list of appointments in their Beta, to produce a super luxury variation of the 1800 version, to be called the 1800 ES (Equipaggiamento Speciale). It retains an identical mechanical specification: front-wheel drive, transverse twin overhead camshaft, 1,756 c.c. engine, five-speed gearbox and all round independent suspension. The price of £2,440 is £344 more than the ordinary 1800.
Revised Celica ST
Toyota’s attractive Celica 1600 ST coupe has been given flared wheel arches, sculptured wheels and one or two other detail alterations to its exterior. The front disc pads are increased in area by 13 per cent, anti-lift wiper blades have been fitted, a combination of cloth and PVC upholstery has been adopted, and front seat tipping action and the temperature gauge have been modified. This two-door Japanese model retains the same 1600 four-cylinder engine with its aluminium crossflow hemi-head with central sparking plugs and angled valves operated by pushrods and double rocker shafts. Twin double-choke carburetters help give it an output of 113 b.h.p. (SAE) at 6,000 r.p.m. and maximum torque of 109 lb. ft. at 4,200 r.p.m. Standard equipment includes tinted glass and a push-button radio and it costs £1,753 including taxes, or £1,840 with the optional five-speed gearbox.