Granada Ghia v. Commodore GS
Luxury and pace from Ford Cologne (with help from Dagenham) and Opel of Russelsheim.
A concerned Ford of Cologne executive admitted to me in Germany last year that sales of his Consul/Granada range were wilting under a most successful attack from the Commodore, the top of the range model from General Motors’ Opel plant. In Britain, on the other hand, the range of big Fords has been tremendously successful, thankfully for Dagenham after the Mk. IV debacle and for some time I had been curious to compare these products from these two American owned manufacturers to find out the reason for the German public’s apparent preference. By coincidence rather than intent I found myself with the Opel Commodore 2.8 GS Coupe and Ford’s latest luxury version of the Granada, the Ghia, for test in consecutive weeks.
To be truly objective would have been to have had these cars at one and the same time and to have borrowed the four-door Commodore saloon as a more valid comparison with the four-door Ghia instead of the two-door fastback Coupe. Alternatively, with hindsight, I would have waited for a Ghia Coupe to become available on the Ford Press fleet to compare it with the correct Commodore equivalent, but the postman did not reveal the impending announcement of the Ghia Coupe until a few minutes ago, only one week before you will have read of this new Ford over the breakfast table and hardly satisfactory notice for a monthly journal. My actual pairing remains relevant, as it happens, because in all respects other than the number of doors and consequential trim and the slightly lower rear roof lines, the coupe and saloon versions of each of these models are identical, even in performance, because there is hardly any difference in weight between them. Between makes there is a considerable difference in weight and consequent power to weight ratio, however. The tubby Ghia weighs in at a hefty 27.5 cwt., pulled along by a 138 b.h.p. DIN 3-litre V6 Essex engine; 142 b.h.p. DIN of straight-six 2.8-litre Opel engine has a modest 24.4 cwt. of sleek Commodore to propel. Consequently the GS Coupe feels a much more agile motor car.
If it is true that the German public have shown bias towards the Commodore it is certainly not because the Granada is a poor competitor. My own conclusion is that they should not be classed as competitors at all; they are as dissimilar as chalk and cheese, both excellent cars in their own right and presenting a choice which must be made by the individual, completely dependent upon what he requires from his transport. My own choice is undoubtedly the Commodore GS, very much the driver’s car of the two, taut, responsive and fast. The Ghia, on the other hand, is quieter (a relative term in this context—the Opel too is exceptionally quiet by most normal standards), rides more comfortably, is roomier if five people are to be carried regularly, and if one closes one’s eyes to the revolting plastic mouldings surrounding the real woodwork, cushions one in an aura of luxury which could only be excelled by paying £1,000 more for an XJ6. It is relaxing, executive travel, admired by its cosseted passengers, but to an enthusiastic driver is a bit of a lazy, unexciting pudding of a car in comparison with the lively Opel, liveliness which over bumpy roads unfortunately extends to the suspension.
Let not patriotism persuade the reader to buy a Ford instead of the Opel. While the common-or-garden Consul/Granada emanates from Dagenham (or maybe Halewood?), the luxury Ghia’s ancestry is the same as the Commodore’s, German, assembled in Cologne, though it does contain many British parts, including the engine. Both cars are expensive, at over £3,000, but having said that, are most people, or firms, who are prepared to pay that sort of money likely to be put off the Opel because in equivalent trim it’s a couple of hundred pounds dearer than the Ford? The Ghia is £3,156 inclusive of car tax and VAT, upon which can be added very few extras indeed, for its specification is remarkably complete. Indeed, the only option offered by Ford is a four-speed manual gearbox in place of the standard automatic, and that “extra” makes the consequently slightly quicker, if less relaxing, Ghia £125 cheaper. The price of the “basic” Commodore 2.8 GS four-door saloon is £3,099, but an automatic gearbox adds another £210 to that, this being rather ludicrous in that the same General Motors automatic gearbox added to a six-cylinder Vauxhall would cost only £130 ! The 2.8 GS Coupe starts life at £3,208 and in automatic form as tested thus costs £3,418. To complete the Commodore to the specification of the Ghia would mean forking out another £105 for a sun-roof and however much a Blaupunkt twin-speaker radio costs, for those items too are included in the standard Ghia package. However, the new Ghia Coupe is £3,574. Relative depreciation is something I would not like to hazard a guess about in these fickle times, but is another question to consider if making a choice. What does seem to be inarguable, however, is that the Opel is noticeably less thirsty than the heavier Ghia, averaging a steady 20 whatever the conditions, whereas the Ghia recorded a worst of 17.5 m.p.g. and a best of 19.1 m.p.g., though driven less ambitiously most of the time than the Opel. Both ran happily on four-star fuel, of which the Ghia held 14 gallons, while the Commodore offered a better range with 15.4 gallons.
To recap on the Ghia, which we announed in the April issue of Motor Sport, it is purely and simply a Granada GXL which has been given a design face-lift and a lot more luxury by the Ford-owned Ghia Operations design studio in Turin and is intended by Ford to be a low-production “European” car. If the number I have seen on the roads in the last few weeks is anything to go by, low-production isn’t all that low and sales must be going well. It is priced at just £350 more than the Granada GXL, the previous top-of-the-range model, and its increased assets are subtle ones. It has a distinctive new grille, of course, and the centre panel between the rear lights gains vinyl trim, but in general equipment it offers little more than the GXL, which too comes with sliding steel sun-roof in a vinyl trimmed roof, with automatic gearbox (manual again optional) and with power steering. Craftily for the last Motor Show Ford removed the woodwork which previously graced the GXL’s facia and made one or two other subtle reductions to the interior specification (at the same time reducing the price by about £6), just in time to re-introduce them in the up-market Ghia. The seats are deeper, more luxuriously padded, the reclining front ones have very tidily designed integral headrests, a substantial arm-rest splits the rear seats and the boldly fluted upholstery is Beaumont cloth, which “has the appearance and feel of the traditional coachbuilder’s broadcloth”, says the Ford Press release, but nevertheless manages to look quite synthetic, says I, and was beginning to look a little tired on the test car’s driving seat. This same material is used for the door panels, headlining, pillars and rear window shelf, while deep, cut-pile carpet is used over a foam underlay in the front wells, and is extended to the lower sections of the doors and the trim panels in the front foot wells. Tinted glass is fitted all round, an “extra” which the Commodore could well do with, the large screens making it like a greenhouse.
To me, fascinated by gadgetry, the most impressive improvement Ghia has given to the interior is the remarkable little digital clock they have fitted down in the centre console, surely the first car to have such an instrument as standard? That in the test car stayed accurate to the second in the course of a week. Other instruments remain as in the ordinary Granada, the 7,000-r.p.m. rev.counter (unforgivably and potentially expensively not marked with a red line) and 140 m.p.h. speedometer lying buried in deep tunnels, which miners will no doubt enjoy exploring when they are all running their Ghias on the suggested £5,000 a year, and other useful information being provided by fuel, water temperature, amps and oil pressure gauges. Switch gear is poor, separate push-button switches for side and headlights contained in the facia rail on the right of the wheel and matching heated screen and wash/wipe on the left. The last named could surely have been incorporated in the right-hand stalk which controls the wipers (the two speeds changed by means of a clumsy rocker switch), flashers and headlight flasher. There are interior lights placed centrally above front and rear windows, there is a lockable cubby-hole, map pockets in the backs of the front seats, grab handles for the passengers and an ashtray with lighter awkwardly placed in front of the gear lever. And overall there is that nasty plastic which fortunately was wearing away on the driver’s manual window winder. Yes, window winder. To me a “luxury” car is not a luxurious car without electrically operated windows, Ford please note. The fact that the Opel had the same omission concerned me less in that this Commodore wasn’t being sold as a “super luxury version” of anything else and its driveability rather than its “sit-in-ability” was of more interest.
Mechanically the Ghia’s specification should be familiar, so a quick reminder should suffice. The cast-iron V6 engine has a bore of 93.7 mm. and a stroke of 72.4 mm. to give a capacity of 2,994 c.c., its twelve overhead valves are operated by pushrods from a single camshaft, it has four main bearings, runs on an 8.9:1 compression ratio and has a twin-choke downdraught Weber carburetter fed by an AC mechanical pump. It produces its 138 b.h.p DIN maximum power at 5,000 r.pm. and that useful, lusty torque of 174 lb. ft. DIN reaches its maximum at 3,000 r.p.m. This was the first Ford I had tried with the new C3 automatic gearbox, a lightweight unit in an aluminium casing and claimed to be “the most sophisticated three-speed automatic in the world”, sophistication which in the case of the test car led to its refusing to kick-down from third to second above 40 m.p.h. and, if kicked down below that, changing up at 4,000 r.p.m., roughly 36 m.p.h. in first and 60 m.p.h. in second. Without using the manual hold, performance was somewhat lethargic, therefore. On the credit side, changes were particularly smooth and towers of boats and caravans will be pleased to know that a heat exchanger (oil cooler) for the transmission oil is included in the water radiator. All-round independent suspension is by double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers and an anti-roll bar at the front and the rear has semi-trailing arms controlled by coil springs and telescopic dampers. Brakes are 10.31 in. ventilated front discs and rear drums, the dual circuit being helped by a servo and the 6J x 14 in. steel wheels (without the advertised Ghia trims on the test car) were shod with 185 SR14 Michelin ZX tyres, the front ones directionally controlled by power-assisted rack and pinion steering.
In England interest in Opel’s beautiful looking Commodore (surely Opel have the most consistently attractive range of designs in the world, currently) is being encouraged by Peter Hanson’s stirring performance in the Castrol Anniversary Challenge (nee British Touring Car Championship) with the Opel Dealer Team 2.8 Commodore GS/E. At the time of writing he is lying second in the Championship behind Andy Rouse’s Dolomite Sprint though a question mark hangs over potential disqualification for the Sprint. The “E” suffix in this case denotes the 160 b.h.p. DIN Bosch fuel injected engine, unfortunately not available in this country, for if the 142 b.h.p. carburetted test car, complete with automatic transmission, was anything to go by it must be quite superb. The 2.8-litre Commodore GS models replaced the 2.5-litre GS (introduced in May 1972) on the British market in May last year. Among the many improvements over the old GS model were an increase in the bore of the short stroke engine from 87 mm. to 92 mm., the stroke remaining at 69.8 mm., and the addition of a second Zenith twin-choke, downdraught 35/40 INAT carburetter. DIN power was raised from 130 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m. to 142 b.h.p. at 5,200 r.p.m. and DIN torque increased from 152 lb. ft. at 3,800 r.p.m. to 159 lb. ft. at 3,400 to 3,800 r.p.m. The seven main bearing, cast-iron, straight-six retains the same overhead camshaft operating the twelve valves via hydraulic tappets and the compression ratio is 9.5:1.
Compared with the Ford’s all-independent suspension, the Opel appears antiquated in having a live rear axle, albeit located positively by twin trailing radius arms, upper torque arms, a transverse linkage bar and an anti-roll bar, suspended upon coil springs and damped by Bilstein gas-filled shock absorbers. The wishbone front suspension features coil springs, lower trailing links, an anti-roll bar, Bilstein shock-absorbers and has anti-dive geometry. Ball and nut hydraulic type power steering is standard and brakes, like the Ghia’s are ventilated discs, in this case of 10.67 in. diameter, and rear drums with servo assistance and a dual circuit. The handbrake lever is situated between the seats, in common with the Ghia. While presenting the Commodore with the extra power of the 2.8-litre engine Opel sensibly chose to fit a limited slip differential as standard.
Large doors make access to the coupe’s front seats easy, and front seat backrests which lock forward help seat passengers with ingress, but the lower straps of the seat belts threaten them with broken necks as they climb out. These static seat belts (a standard fitting) are the worst part of the car, clumsy to fasten and making difficult adjustment of the low, centrally mounted radio; inertia reel belts, as in the Ghia, ought to be adopted in a car of this price. The seats are very comfortable, not so resilient as those in the Ghia, for the Germans prefer firmer support, and are upholstered in boldly-fluted cord. Removable front seat head restraints are more useful as headrests than those in the Ghia, but obstructive for rear passengers and the back rests are more accurately adjustable than the Ghia’s by the means of knurled knobs. The thin-rimmed steering wheel is trimmed with soft plastic mounted on foam, unlike the Ghia which has a real leather cover stitched over a solid plastic rim. The Ghia’s heating/ventilation system is inferior to that of the Commodore, which itself is not brilliant, though it does have central air vents in the facia as well as corner eyeballs, while the Ghia has the latter only.
The appearance and clarity of the Commodore’s instrument layout is excellent: a cluster of four small instruments on the left of the cowled, rectangular panel in front of the driver have similar functions to the four in the Ghia except that the ammeter is replaced by a voltmeter, a 140 m.p.h. speedometer is fitted and the tachometer is yellow-lined at 5,800 and red-lined at 6,450, which this beautifully smooth and mechanically quiet short-stroke straight-six will reach in first or second gear manual hold without its hydraulic tappets pumping up. Fake wood veneer around the instruments and on the centre console detracts a little from the general neatness of the facia, three quadrant heater levers are conveniently placed for the left hand, a turn knob on the right controls the lights, dipped by the left-hand steering column stalk, which controls the powerful two-speed wipers (by turning the lever), while pressing the end of the lever simultaneously activates the washers and wipers, much more satisfactory than the Ghia arrangement. A heated rear window is fitted, as are twin, door-mounted mirrors (the Ghia has one only) and the power of the rectangular headlamps in conjunction with the halogen sportlights was quite fantastic (I think the fog-lights below the test car’s bumper were extras). However, the glove locker does not lock. Both the Commodore and Ghia have more than adequate boot space, both with spare wheels mounted vertically on the left-hand side, that of the Ghia being hidden by carpeting. In these days of growing concern for longevity it is encouraging to see that the Commodore’s extremely well finished body has the benefit of galvanised steel for the underbody and rocker panels and there is liberal application of bitumen protection and complete underbody waxing.
For photographic purposes I was able to borrow the Commodore for one day of my period with the Ghia and to jump straight from one car into the other was most interesting. The immediate impression was that the Commodore was much more compact, the view over the bonnet of the Ghia resembling the Ark Royal’s flight deck, yet at 5 ft. 8 in. the Commodore is only 2-1/2 in. narrower than the Ghia, is slightly over 1 in. longer (15 ft. one and a bit inches) and is supposedly exactly the same height (from manufacturers’ figures) at 4 ft. 5.9 in., though when parked side by side the Ghia towered over the Commodore. But the immediate driving impression was unquestionably that the Commodore felt more precise simply driving away through two parked lines of cars, a feeling which was to increase at speed. The Opel’s ball and nut steering is genuinely merely assisted by power, remaining so positive and with so much feel that I found it necessary to look under the bonnet to confirm the existence of a power steering pump. On the other hand a little too much assistance is applied to the fairly low geared rack-and-pinion of the Ghia, so that it is less positive in the straight-ahead position, produces less feel and encourages over-reaction at the wheel until one is accustomed to it.
Extensive use of sound-deadening on the Ghia has made it quieter than the ordinary Granada, making the V6 almost imperceptible except at high revs when it becomes a little fussy, something which the smooth, slightly less-well-isolated Opel engine does not become. Both show commendably low wind-noise, reduced to a flutter round the screen pillars. Once cruising above 90 m.p.h. the Commodore is easily the master of the Ghia, cruising with a relaxed, long-legged gait and with plenty in reserve up to its recorded maximum of 118 m.p.h. The Granada was puffing a little bit at 100 m.p.h., feeling somewhat lower geared, but should be capable of 110 m.p.h. or so. Both were very stable and entirely suited to such speeds, encouraging relaxed travel for driver and passengers.
Spongy brakes, long pedal travel and fade from high speed were a disappointing aspect of the Ghia, those of the Commodore being much superior, though these too lost some efficiency if sensible use was not made of the second-gear hold braking effect. But it was in general handling and cornering that the Commodore had the edge on the Ghia, quite stiff springing, effective damping and little nose dive ensuring very little roll and, with the help of that excellent steering and in spite of the drawbacks of automatic transmission, encouraging exciting exploitation of taut, precise and virile behaviour. The comparatively softly sprung, though adequately damped, Ghia suspension allows it to roll somewhat, the steering is dead and low geared and though its roadholding is exceptional it is not a very inspiring car to an enthusiastic driver. Rear suspension is good enough to scorn the need for a limited slip differential, but the Opel’s light back end needs it for traction and as an aid to correction under power in the wet when it needs to be shown who is master. The Ghia in the same conditions is very sure-footed on its Michelin ZX’s (the Commodore has that firm’s XAS’s of 175 HR 14 size), but not so responsive to control when it reaches its limit. As said early in this report the Commodore’s ride on its taut suspension is on the lively side, while the Ghia glides over the bumps obliviously.
Choosing a car is a matter of horses for courses and whichever your course, the Ghia and the Commodore provide excellent alternatives. The Ghia is a supremely comfortable passenger’s but not so much a driver’s car, while the Commodore will delight the driver at the expense of less ride comfort. Both are bound to attract executives forced by company economies to climb down from BMWs, Mercedes and Jaguars and so good are they both that few people will regret the move for long