Around and About, August 1975

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Mundy’s Marvel

Since the days of the 3.8 Mk. IIs, Jaguar saloons have grown into rather more “luxury” than “sporting” carriages: the performance is there still, but the cars are somewhat softer in character and often cushioned by automatic transmission. That is particularly true of the XJ12, which has potentially formidable saloon-car performance blunted by its compulsory Borg-Warner Model 12 transmission. But take one of the new 285-b.h.p. DIN fuel-injected V12 engines, mate it to a five-speed gearbox, drop it in an XJ12 saloon with its already superb roadholding improved by alloywheel mounted, brand-new Dunlop tyres, shortly to be introduced on the new XJ27, its “driveability” enhanced by the latest (on V12s only) higher-ratio power steering, and the result is a five-seater bombshell of tremendously sporting character.

Harry Mundy, Jaguar’s Associate Director, Chief Engineer, Power Units, has just such a car, into which the Assistant Editor recently found himself pushed by Mundy, quite unexpectedly, for a few unchaperoned miles. The transformation which the five-speed box has made to this car proved astonishing. This gearbox is pure Jaguar, of tremendous strength (more than enough to cope with now sidelined development 6.4-litre V12 engines, said to have as much torque at 1,000 r.p.m. as the 4.2-litre straight-six has at maximum) and, certainly in Mundy’s car, having a quite delightful gear-change and perfect ratios for road use. The tragedy is that much as Jaguar’s engineers would love to see this superb gearbox in production, the cost of tooling up would be prohibitive for building it in the smallish quantities which they anticipate would be sold in the mainly automatic-orientated V12 market. For this reason production of it is unlikely.

We think they underestimate its viability. Given the courage to invest in it and salesmen to push it to other car manufacturers—in the USA specifically, where even specialised markets are comparatively huge—it could more than justify its existence. Extra performance (which was quite shattering) was only one virtue of this car; after all, the standard, automatic, injected car accelerates from 0-60 m.p.h. in 7.5 sec. It was the improved driving control, the ability to use the power properly to exploit roadholding on corners that transformed this Jaguar into a very sporting motor car indeed. One hundred miles per hour registered at a mere 3,000 r.p.m. in 5th (using the higher 3.07-to-1 final-drive ratio of the new injection cars), 110 m.p.h. represented a mere 3,400 r.p.m., 100 m.p.h. in 3rd gear represented only 5,150 r.p.m. (giving two more gears and several hundred more revs to go). Sixty miles per hour meant only 1,900 r.p.m. in 5th gear, in which ratio the car would run at, and accelerate from, less than 700 r.p.m., i.e., tickover speed. Indeed, a Jaguar engineer claimed that 5th can be used from a standstill on a level road.

With a genuine top speed of 140 m.p.h. for the automatic car, Mundy’s XJ 12 must he capable of 145 m.p.h. plus, even allowing for aerodynamic drawbacks at that speed. It would not be over-exaggerating to say that if this specification Jaguar was put into production it would knock BMW and Mercedes opposition into a cocked-hat on practically all counts. How about it, British Leyland ?

Cheap Parts for Old BL Cars

Following our article in the May issue criticising their handling of spares for older cars, British Leyland have announced a special redundant stock clearout sale to give owners of certain out-of-production vehicles “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to buy new parts for their cars at well below cost price”. As much as 75 per cent off some parts, in fact.

The full-list of models affected is: Austin A40, Austin A55/60 and Morris Oxford (including Wolseley and Riley derivatives), Austin A110 and Wolseley 6/110, Jaguar Mk. 2, S-type, Mk. 10 and 420 and the Triumph Herald and Vitesse range. Examples of the special sale prices are a crankshaft for a Jaguar 3.8 Mk. 2 or S-type for £30 (originally £130), a stripped, straight-port Jaguar cylinder head for £50 (was £177). 3.8 Mk. 2 rear axle assemblies with limited slip differential, £50 (£139), a right-hand front door for a Mk. 10, £20 a door assembly for a Mk. II A40, £6 (£37.25), a front wing for an A60, £12 (£37), a cylinder block for a 2-litre Vitesse, £40 (£235).

A full list of the parts included in the sale will be available at British Leyland outlets, through whom the parts can be ordered. All orders will be dealt with on a first come, first served basis.

Though it would be nice to take credit for prompting this sensible move, we think that, unbeknown to us, it was already in the pipeline when our article appeared.

The Jensen GT

Rapping the press over the knuckles for rumour-mongering, the outspoken Kjell Qvale, American owner of Jensen Motors Ltd., told us at a recent conference: “If we read too often that we aren’t going to last, then it will probably come true.” The remark was coincidental with the announcement of the Jensen GT, and if Jensen need something as a business booster then this beautiful 2 + very small 2, fixed-head GT ought to do the trick.

Jensen can hardly disguise the fact that the Jensen-Healey, on which this GT is based, has not been a resounding success. A reputation founded on the unreliability of the all-aluminium, twin-cam, 16-valve Lotus engines and poor finish of the early production cars takes some living down. Though the latest Jensen-Healeys we have driven, now with the five-speed Gertrag gearbox, are excellent cars (and reliable, though finish is not yet perfect), with roadholding, handling, performance and comfort to shame open sports cars from MG and Triumph, they have failed to sell in realistic quantities.

Qvale claims that the Jensen (note the dropping of -Healey) will create a new market. “We’re up-marketing the Jensen-Healey into a market where we can expect more success, a market which is now being created. This £4,198 car is being built with the quality of a Jensen and the economy of a Jensen-Healey, a luxury car with economy built in.”

This GT’s interior is most attractively designed and finished—except for the atrocious, protruding self-tapping screws, inherited from the Jensen-Healey, in the screen pillars. Burr walnut facia with excellent instrumentation, electric windows, deep, high quality carpeting, thermal delay interior lighting à la Interceptor and very comfortable, Ambla and Nylon upholstered front seats are all included. The small rear seats—”for kids up to 10 years old”, says Qvale—fold forwards individually to extend the luggage space. Gas-filled struts support the lift-up rear tailgate, which has its own screen-wiper and washer. Connolly leather upholstery is available as an extra. As Qvale intimates, the whole air of this elegant car is much more akin to the Interceptor than the Jensen-Healey. Air-conditioning is optional for the UK, standard on most export cars. Mechanically, other than for attention to shock-absorber and spring rates and the fitting of a front anti-roll bar (it weighs 100 lb. more than the Jensen-Healey), the GT is identical to the later open cars. Production of the Jensen-Healey has been temporarily suspended to concentrate on the GT, production of which will rise to 40 per week. When the Jensen-Healey is put back into production it will incorporate many of the improvements made in the GT. Interceptor production has been levelled off at 10 per week.

Small, Sporty and Useful

FIAT have extended the appeal of their 1.3- and 1.1-litre FWD 128 coupe models by introducing a revised three-door model to be known as the 128 3P. Aside from the telescopically-assisted third door, the 3P models offer more comfortable interiors with reshaped seats carrying cloth centre panels, useful improvements in engine torque and (probably) fuel economy. Externally the frontal styling is mildly modified with new rubber inserts for sturdy new bumpers, while at the rear the third door is accompanied by the vertical arrangement of tail-lights. It is unlikely that the British market, which will probably receive the latest addition to the line after the Motor Show in the autumn, will take the smaller-engined version at all, as this proved a slow seller when Fiat first introduced the previous coupé. For the record the 1.1 motor produces eight less horsepower than the 1.3’s 73 b.h.p. at 6,000 r.p.m., and 64.3 lb. ft. torque against the bigger engine’s 73.7 lb. ft. at 3,900 r.p.m.

Internally the engines have new combustion chamber profiles and compression ratio has been raised from 8.8 to 1 to 9.2 to 1 in the search for increased m.p.g., with no penalty in octane requirement. While peak horsepower has actually dropped by 2 b.h.p. on the 1300, the car loses no performance and is easier to drive because of an 8.5% torque increase that is backed up by a substantially improved torque curve from 2,000 to 6,000 r.p.m.

Maximum speed of the 1300 version is put at 99 m.p.h., and we are quite prepared to accept that as the speedometer on “our” demonstrator was descending from an indicated 108 m.p.h. or so when we did finally get the chance to have a look on the busy Italian country test route.

The amount of tyre squeal and slip under anything beyond a half-throttle standing-start would have been more at home within the confines of Santa Pod’s quarter-miles. However its useful 1,297-c.c. performance of 13.5 sec. from 0-62 m.p.h. could be delivered to tarmac less dramatically.

The 128 3Ps we tried suffered from sticky steering, but they still handle in a safe manner that can be exploited readily within the bounds of increasing understeer until the throttle is lifted. The three-door configuration and foldaway rear seats allow maximum load to be increased in capacity from the previous model’s 11.3 Cu. ft. to an astonishing 32.4 Cu. ft., though the catalogue illustrates a man sitting on his own with a large potted plant growing over the folded-forward front seat, which may explain some of the difference! It is nice to note that Fiat have included a luggage cover, which doubles as the rear shelf.

The 128 range of saloons, estates and three-door coupés nears the 2½ million mark in production and the 128 3P can only extend that appeal to the benefit of Fiat and those who consider a Capri oversize, or who find other full-size coupés impractical and too expensive. The only penalty such customers will pay is that of excessive engine noise and drumming at speeds beyond Britain’s highest speed limit.

Goodbye Front Plates

Motorcycle front number plates cease to be a legal requirement after August 1st. The protruding edge of these front plates “has afforded a significant safety hazard to rider and pedestrian”, says a DoE report. Motorcycles, mopeds or scooters are all included in this new regulation, which doesn’t however, insist on removal of existing plates, a point of interest perhaps to owners of vintage motorcycles who would he loath to change long-standing appearances. Rear number plates remain a statutory requirement.

Whitehead’s Ferrari

For the benefit of D.S.J., who will undoubtedly complain (!), and our readers, a printing error in correcting another error has transformed the ex-Peter Whitehead Ferrari described on page 892 into a 1-litre instead of 1½-litre supercharged car.

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