Road Test - Rochdale Olympic Phase II



An Inexpensive 114 m.p.h. G.T. Car

The styling of the Rochdale is extremely efficient aerodynamically, causing little noise and contributing to the car’s performance at speed.

We can claim some of the credit for the success of the Rochdale Olympic, for it was our original road-test in June 1961 which brought the car to the attention of the public and ever since then there has been a steady sale for this Porsche-like coupé. The basic design of the car has not changed greatly since then but a Phase II model was introduced in 1963 and was described in the June 1963 issue.

The Phase II version retains the monocoque glass-fibre body/chassis unit but to give easier access to the luggage compartment there is a rear door. By mounting the spare wheel under the floor and fitting twin 5-gallon fuel tanks, the boot floor is now quite flat and will take a large amount of luggage. The car tested in 1961 used a majority of B.M.C. components with Riley 1.5 engine, gearbox, front suspension, rear axle and brakes, but the Phase II model is usually supplied with the Ford Cortina 1 1/2-litre engine and gearbox, while the front suspension is wishbone and coil-spring as used on the Triumph Spitfire. The rear axle is of B.M.C. manufacture mainly because it is available with a high 3.7 ratio. Disc brakes are standard on the front wheels in conjunction with drums at the rear.

The car we tested had a Cortina GT engine fitted, which gives 78 b.h.p. at 5,200 r.p.m., and although this had only done about 1,500 miles and was still a little tight it gave the Rochdale pretty impressive performance. On test it did 0-50 m.p.h. in 8 sec. and 0-80 m.p.h. in 19.4 sec., and covered the standing start 1/4-mile in 17.9 sec., which is better than most other production sports cars like the MG.-B or TR4 and, of course, there is plenty of scope for further tuning as the rugged 5-main-bearing engine will give up to 100 b.h.p. without showing signs of stress. The test car had the standard Ford gearbox with rather wide ratios, so that although acceleration in 1st and 2nd is pretty impressive the car takes a few seconds to pick up again once the change to 3rd has been made. We set ourselves a rev, limit of 6,500 r.p.m. and at this figure the Rochdale gave speeds in the gears of 35, 52, 84 and 114 m.p.h., although the engine seemed quite willing to go on to 7,000 r.p.m. With many cars the top speed is of only academic interest as it can only be reached after a furious downhill rush on a Motorway, but with the Rochdale 100 m.p.h. is a comfortable cruising gait, reached easily on quite short straights, and the maximum speed comes up in a very short space. In fact the Rochdale could quite easily cope with a higher back axle ratio, but 5,000 r.p.m. in top gear represents 90 m.p.h., at which speed it seems perfectly happy.

Mechanically, the test car was not particularly quiet due partly to engine noise and partly to transmission whine. However as this is a kit car the owner would no doubt make his own arrangements for sound deadening. The test car was fitted with sound-damping material under the bonnet and on the floors but some extra material on the bulkhead and transmission tunnel would make the Rochdale exceptionally quiet. In respect of wind noise the car is obviously well shaped, for there is virtually no wind noise at speed. The odd rattle and creak from the body could be heard and the Dunlop SP tyres tended to whine badly on coarse road surfaces. However, considering that the car is of monocoque construction it is commendably free from the vibrations that one might expect.

The Rochdale is not fitted with a normal fan but has a small header tank and an electric fan in the nose controlled from a facia switch. During the relatively cold weather which prevailed throughout our test this was only needed when stuck in traffic jams, and the temperature normally stayed at around 85° C. This no doubt assisted us in returning an overall fuel consumption of 30 m.p.g., which is outstanding for a car of this performance. The two 5-gallon tanks have to be filled separately but have a balance pipe, and the total range is not far off 300 miles.

The ride and handling are of a very high order. The car is fairly wide and it has that feeling of a “wheel at each corner” when being cornered hard. Softish springs and firm damping give an excellent ride tending towards firmness but just about right for the enthusiast, for there is very little of the pitching to which short wheelbase cars are sometimes prone. The test car was running on Dunlop SP tyres with braced treads and these no doubt helped to provide the car with its extraordinarily fine roadholding qualities for it is very reluctant to break away and can be cornered very rapidly indeed. The SP’s do tend to be noisy, especially if run at high pressures, but their leech-like grip seems well worth the bother. Triumph Spitfire rack-and-pinion steering is fitted which is as precise and effortless as on its parent car, although there was some lost motion on the test car’s steering. The lock is almost up to Triumph standards but the wheels tend to foul the bodywork on full lock. The brakes are well up to the performance of the Olympic and stop it quite easily from maximum speed without sign of fuss. There was some sponginess on the test car but this was presumably an individual fault. Heel-and-toe gear-changing was made difficult because of the long travel on the pedal. The hand-brake, mounted on the driver’s side of the transmission tunnel, is the excellent fly-off type which should be fitted to all sports cars.

The interior of the Rochdale is fairly simple. The veneered facia has only three instruments, these consisting of speedometer, electric rev.-counter, and combined water-temperature, oil-pressure and fuel-contents gauges. These are fitted in a cowled section in front of the driver with a lights-flasher switch protruding from the facia by the steering wheel. The various switches and controls are fitted in a central console which is easily removable. Identical toggle switches cause some confusion at first but the driver soon learns the layout. On the top row are switches for electric fan, panel lights and a combined side/headlamp switch, plus a spare switch for fog or spot lamps, on the second row are the heater fan and windscreen wipers switches, and below these the choke knob, reverse light switch with attendant warning light, and the ignition switch. The button for the electric windscreen washers is on the floor above the dip-switch and the flashers switch is fitted to the right of the steering column. There is a fair amount of stowage space in the Rochdale, with large pockets in the doors and another pocket on the body side by the passenger’s feet. The large deck behind the seats will take several large suitcases or could be made suitable for two children. Access to the luggage space from outside is gained by pulling a knob behind the driver’s seat. The top-hinged door has to be propped open. The doors have winding windows and the rear quarter-lights can be held open with over-centre catches. The Microcell bucket seats are well shaped and comfortable although a little too upright for some tastes. They are adjusted fore and aft by lifting the seat and re-locating the feet in slots. The test car was fitted with Irvin lap and diagonal safety harness (which I wore!), but these are extras, as are sun visors, ash-trays and radio.

The finish of the test car was below that which one would expect from a factory-built car and it showed signs of having led a fairly hard life. The self-coloured glass-fibre body is smooth and generally well finished, but one or two blemishes were apparent which would no doubt disappear if cellulosing were carried out. The interior trimming was well done but door trimming, which is held in place with self-tapping screws, showed signs of loosening. However it must be remembered that the car has been designed for home assembly and complicated methods of fixing are out of question.

It is somewhat surprising that a major manufacturer has not seen the merit of the Rochdale Olympic and taken out a licence to manufacture the car in quantity, for it has once again proved to our satisfaction to be one of the most desirable 2-seaters we have come across. Certainly, anyone who takes a good deal of trouble in assembling his car can claim to have a “British Porsche” for the ridiculously cheap price of £735. – M. L. T.



Engine: Four cylinders, 86.96 x 72.65 mm. (1,498 c.c.). Push-rod-operated overhead valves. 78 b.h.p. (net) at 5,200 r.p.m.

Gear ratios: 1st, 13.82 to 1; and, 9.34 to 1; 3rd, 5.51 to 1; top, 3.90 to 1; reverse, 15.46 to 1.

Tyres: Dunlop SP 13 in.

Weight: 17 1/4 cwt.

Steering ratio: 2 1/2 turns lock-to-lock. Fuel capacity : 10 gallons. (Range 300 miles.)

Wheelbase: 7 ft. 2 in.

Track: 4 ft. 2 1/2 in. front and rear.

Dimensions: 12 ft. 3 in. x 5 ft. 4 in. X 4 ft. 1 in. (high).

Price: £735 (in component form).

Makers: Rochdale Motor Panels & Engineering Ltd.,

Littledale Mills, Littledale Street, Rochdale, Lancs.