Small-car topics

A section devoted when deemed necessary to cars the engine capacity of which does not exceed 1,000 c.c.

The economy car situation
Road-test of the new Fiat 850

The Labour government's petrol-tax increase makes economical motoring generally desirable. But it is to be hoped that this heavy tax will not remain in operation so long, or increase still further, to the extent that the design of British cars will be affected to the detriment of sales in other countries, in the way that the R.A.C. h.p. rating for taxation purposes caused our engines to have unnecessarily long strokes for so many years.

Emphasis on economy, in general, means power units of small cubic capacity, and although, prior to the increase in petrol tax, British design-teams had been thinking in terms of larger swept volumes and an uplift in power output, a sufficient number of small-engined cars remains available for those to whom m.p.g. is of greater concern than m.p.h.

In view of the prevailing focus on fuel economy, I have taken a look at the petrol consumption recorded in Motor Sport road tests, as far back as the time when I began publising tabulated m.p.g. figures with each survey of my year's motoring. I find that even the smallest-engined and least significant little cars never quite attained the elusive 60 m.p.g., nor has Reliant accepted my challenge, issued last November, and proved to me that their claim of 60 m.p.g./60 m.p.h. is valid.

Our m.p.g. figures are normally the outcome of varied driving over an appreciable mileage, but are not inclusive of performance testing, which results in the depressingly high fuel consumption figures published in some weekly journals. A summary of the better figures obtained by Motor Sport since 1959 reads:

1959 N.S.U. Prinz II ... 48.8 m.p.g.

1959 Morris Mini-Minor ... 44.4 m.p.g.

1959 Renault Dauphine ... 44.0 m.p.g.

1959 Renault Dauphine-Gordini ... 40.5 m.p.g.

1960 Fiat New 500 ... 54.0 m.p.g.

1960 N.S.U. Prinz ... 45.0 m.p.g.

1961 Renault Dauphine ... 41.0 m.p.g.

1961 Fiat Giardiniera ... 52.3 m.p.g.

1962 Renault 4L ... 45.0 m.p.g.

1962 Fiat 600D ... 44.0 m.p.g.

1962 Citroën Ami 6 ... 56.7 m.p.g.

1962 Simca 1000 ... 40.5 m.p.g.

1963 N.S.U. Prinz 4 ... 40.6 m.p.g.

1963 N.S.U. Sport Prinz II ... 44.6 m.p.g.

1964 Renault R8 1100 ... 41.0 m.p.g.

I also looked up our road tests of the 328-c.c. Unicar in 1958 and of the early Citroën 2 c.v. in 1954. The former, which I wouldn't care to drive for any great distance and for which the maker's claimed 75 m.p.g., did 53 m.p.g. of petroil, the Citroën averaged 59.9 m.p.g. A Fiat 600 tested also in 1958 returned 47 m.p.g. and the Mini-Minor I once used as Editorial transport used to do 45 m.p.g. Some of these economy cars would run on mixture-grade or even on "cooking" petrol, but the idyllic 60 m.p.g. in general running has yet to be attained, especially when combined with a reasonable maximum speed.

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It was appropriate that one of our recent road tests was of the new Fiat 850. This "enlarged 600," with its Tipo 100G Weber-carburetted 65 x 63.5-mm. (843 c.c.) 40 (S.A.E.)-b.h.p. engine, carries on the much-appreciated features of the small Fiats, which include supple suspension which gives a comfortable ride without inducing the road wheels to leave the ground, no noticeable oversteer in spite of a rear engine, and smooth, willing performance.

The Fiat 850 2-door 4-seater saloon possesses a first-class gearbox, powerful brakes, and steering which is light and responsive and displays no lost motion in ordinary usage. The clutch pedal travels some distance before engagement occurs, the screen pillars are rather thick, and the wheel-arches intrude into the driving compartment. Otherwise, this Fiat 850 is a delightful and useful little car; lady-drivers, including a learner-driver of 17, were especially warm in its praise, judging it safe and very easy to drive.

The facia layout is pleasantly uncluttered. To the right of the 90-m.p.h. Veglia speedometer are those tiny switches for, from l. to r., lights, wipers and panel-illumination.

There are two l.h. stalks, the longer, lower one selecting full or dipped headlamps, the shorter, upper one the turn-indicators. The fact that the former moves up to bring in the headlamps I found contrary to instinct, while the latter control self-cancelled rather too eagerly. The usual Fiat indicator lights replace auxiliary dials.

The engine always started with only momentary use of the floor-located choke control, even when this car from Italy had spent a night covered in English frost so severe that the rubber washers button froze solid. Under such wintery conditions the value of rear-engined traction was plainly evident and the little Fiat felt notably safe on icy roads. The front boot is generous enough to answer the usual criticism about lack of luggage space in rear-engined cars. The spare wheel, 5.50.X 12 Pirelli Sernpione shod, stands upright against the front wall of the boot. The engine is not particularly accessible but the fuel filler has its own compartment, with drain-vent, on the n.s. of the engine compartment, under the easily-opened "piano-lid." The rear-seat squab folds to provide a rear-compartment luggage platform, and both engine compartment and boot are lit at night.

This 850 continues the Fiat tradition of feeling "unburstable," even at the high engine speeds at which it habitually runs, is not unduly noisy for a small "buzz-box," and the seats are comfortable. The doors, which have pockets, seem to shut badly until one realises that, as in a VW, the body sealing is so effective that a window should first be opened. The full-width facia shelf has a too-shallow lip. The Fiat 850 may be compared on a performance basis with the Mini-Minor and Hillman Imp of equivalent swept volume, as under:–

Fiat 850
Maximum Speeds: Top, 78 m.p.h.; 3rd, 61 m.p.h.; 2nd, 42 m.p.g.

Acceleration: 0-40 m.p.h. 10.2 sec., 0-50 m.p.h. 16.6 sec., 0-60 m.p.h. 26.8 sec.

Standing start 1/4-mile: 22.3 sec.

Mini-Minor
Maximum Speeds: Top, 75 m.p.h.; 3rd, 65 m.p.h.; 2nd, 41 m.p.h.

Acceleration: 0-40 m.p.h. 10.0 sec., 0-50 m.p.h. 16.4 sec., 0-60 m.p.h. 25.4 sec.

Standing start 1/4-mile: 23.4 sec.

Hillman Imp
Maximum Speeds Top, 81 m.p.h.; 3rd, 76 m.p.h.; 2nd, 50 m.p.h.

Acceleration: 0-40 m.p.h. 9.5 sec.; 0-50 m.p.h. 14.9 sec.; 0-60 m.p.h. 22.9 sec.

Standing start 1/4-mile: 21.9 sec.

Fuel consumption averaged 38.7 m.p.g. and the 8-to-1 c.r. engine was quite happy on mixture or even the cheapest-grade petrols. After 850 miles a pint of oil had been consumed. This Fiat is endowed with a truly efficient heater, supplemented by hot-air/fresh-air facia ducts.

This latest small Fiat is a most attractive economy car, and one which seems to appeal strongly to lady drivers. It should sell well, at the price, inclusive of p.t. and Import Duty, of £576. Fiat have their own depot at Wembley for sales, servicing and spares.—W. B.