Road Test

The BMW 1800 TI

A four-cylinder overhead camshaft 110-b.h.p. German saloon providing the comfort and convenience of a high-grade family car allied to extremely good performance and handling.

Bayerische Motoren Werke A.G. of Munich have earned an enviable reputation for building high-quality cars that are a pleasure to drive, from the days of the pre-war sports 328, and before. When I was in Germany taking a look at the B.M.W. factory four years ago I was able to sample the then-new single-overhead-camshaft 1500 saloon, an experience which showed this to be an extremely desirable newcomer. Since then this excellent 1 1/2-litre saloon has been developed into the larger engined 1800, and from this B.M.W. took the logical step of listing a high-performance version of this car, correctly termed TI, although it can leave behind a number of so-called GT cars. This outwardly sober but smart-looking car, with its wide bonnet and Alfa-like radiator grille, can run-up to 110 m.p.h. and dispose of a s.s. 1/4-mile in just under 18.sec.

Under the self-propping bonnet, released by means of an under-scuttle lever on the n/s, which also pulls the bonnet closed in the best Rolls-Royce tradition, the 84 x 80 mm. (1,773 c.c.) engine, canted over to the o/s, has two horizontal twin-choke 4OPHH 32-mm. Solex carburetters, and the c.r. raised from 8.6 to 1 to 9.5 to 1. In this form the single o.h.-camshaft power unit with light-alloy cylinder head, the camshaft chain-driven, delivers 110 (net) b.h.p. at 5,800 r.p.m., which is an improvement of 20 b.h.p. over the normal B.M.W. 1800. The axle ratio has been raised from 4.22 to 1 to 4.11 to 1.

Owners of the TI sometimes say that this extra and very usable power makes the car unnecessarily noisy, and certainly when accelerating hard the air-intakes do make a considerable roar. Conversely, when idling the power unit is completely inaudible, So that a glance at the tachometer is necessary to reassure the driver that it hasn’t stalled. The presence of four Champion N9Y sparking plugs in the glove locker of the test car suggested temperament, as did the instruction that the choke control should only be used in very cold weather. In fact, the spare plugs were not required, the engine being quite content to idle at near-zero revs. and negotiate traffic without wetting those already in use, and, by almost but not quite ignoring the choke knob, I got very willing starts, hot or cold, after twice depressing the accelerator prior to using the starter.

There is, in fact, nothing of the rorty, attention-provoking competition car about the B.M.W. 1800 TI, and it can be driven like any family saloon if the owner so desire’s. Yet it has very real power, delivered with turbine smoothness, which translates into extremely usable acceleration, the gear ratios being so spaced that they give maxima of 30, 52 and 80 m.p.h. in the indirect gears. This is achieved by going well beyond the power peak, the engine being happy up to 7,000 r.p.m. and quite ready to go to 6,200 in the gears (the tachometer has the red marking between that speed and 8,000 r.p.m.), although normally something on the lower side of 6,000 r.p.m. suffices. Certainly this is an engine which likes to be kept busy, and frequent recourse to second gear is a natural procedure in traffic motoring. This ability to go on revving fast in the gears without fear of doing damage, the very high top-speed for a car of this type, and particularly the extremely effective pick-up—0-60 m.p.h. in 11 sec., to 70 in 15 sec.—render the B.M.W. 1800 in TI form a very safe vehicle in which to cover the ground in a minimum of time.

This is the more so because, in spite of quite flexible all-round independent suspension which gives a notably comfortable ride— it is by MacPherson struts and wishbones at the front, with anti-roll bar, by semi-trailing arms, also in conjunction with coilsprings, at the rear, damped telescopically—the B.M.W., if inclined to lean a bit when cornered out of family-saloon context, clings to the road remarkably well. The damping is reasonably effective, too, the only time I felt some increase might be called for was when the car became rather lively at high speed over uneven road surfaces.

The B.M.W.’s combination of front disc, rear drum brakes are light to apply, being vacuum-servo assisted, and very effective. Indeed, they gain power for a crash stop and so are nicely progressive for normal retardation. The steering wheel is set somewhat high, but as it is out of the line of vision, this is no criticism. Of ZF worm and roller type, the steering is fairly light while the wheels are rolling, heavier for parking, but with a notable absence of lost motion. It calls for 3 1/2 turns, lick-to-lock. The cornering characteristic is neutral, and the Dunlop SP41 TL tyres with which the test car was shod gave confidence on wet roads.

The gearbox is controlled by a central lever, well located but with rather long movements and a big, pimply knob. Very rapid changes are possible but if they are indulged in there is the penalty of beating the syncromesh when going from 1st to 2nd gear. However, this “non-mechanical” gear-change, if very slightly sticky, is extremely good, and bottom gear (which has syncromesh) engages easily, reverse, beyond bottom, even more easily. The clutch pedal has a long travel, is inclined to bring the clutch in fiercely, and is not complimentary to the gearbox, and does not feel too durable for continual sprint starts. The handbrake lever is perfectly conventional in pulling up from between the front seats and, as such, very effective.

The luxury aspect is very evident from the interior of the B.M.W. 1800 TI. The big front seats are comfortable, in the soft-cushion fashion, and have levers to adjust the spring-loaded squabs, the action surpassed only by the knob-control of a Mercedes-Benz. The seats are of generous dimensions and the driver sits upright, as in a vintage or p.v.t. car, which should be good for his health. The upholstery looks like leather but is really p.v.c.—frequently the case on modern German cars. The back seat is less acceptable, I am told, due to the spring rate of the cushion being out of phase with the car’s suspension, but it provides plenty of space for three occupants, especially as curved window glasses give additional elbow-room, and the occupants’ feet are accommodated in woven-carpet foot wells.

The doors open wide, held by good “keeps,” and the interior handles are located safely beneath the arm-rests. There are sill door-locks. The windows wind fully down with 3 1/2 turns of the winding handle. The quarter-lights are opened and closed by knobs, for precision and tamper-proofness.

The BMW’s facia is simple to the point of being uninspiring if not actually unacceptable. What appears to be a narrow strip of unpolished wood is actually metal with p.v.c. stuck on to it ! Three unlabelled, spaced-out knobs look after lighting cigarettes, and putting on the 2-speed wipers and the lamps. The main dials comprise the speedometer on the right, reading to 120 m.p.h., with total and trip odometers which do not have decimal readings, a German aspect, and a clock flanked by difficult-to-read needles and coloured warning lights labelled, even on this r.h.d. car, “Blinker,” “Kraftstoff,” “Oeldruck,” “Zundung,” “Wassentemp” and “Fermlicht,” which is flattering to the ego but pretty uninformative to the majority of British owners. . . . In any case, the fuel-contents gauge is vague and the oil-pressure gauge varies from 1 to 4 1/2 according to engine revs. Temperature was normally around 75° C. Between the two big dials there is a tiny tachometer, not adequate for an engine which goes so quickly to 6,000 r.p.m. and likes to be driven that way. Instrumentation is by Vdo.

The big steering wheel (16 1/2 in.) carries a full horn-ring and its boss is padded. Neat, well-contrived black crash-padding surrounds the seemingly-anaemic-wooden facia and constitutes the decor, a nice feature of many German cars. Two simple-to-understand horizontal heater quadrant controls occupy the centre of the facia and operate a heater which, if it seemed to lack volume, demisted the screen and windows effectively. I never did find the fan switch, and never needed it.

Close to the steering column are the ignition/steering lock and the little-needed choke knob, plated in contrast to the facia knobs. Two stalks are fitted, the r.h. one operating the turn-indicators and also, if pulled upwards, wiping and washing the screen, in an ingenious manner, the blades continuing for three sweeps after the squirts have stopped—excellent, except that I found myself sometimes signalling a left turn while indulging in this screen valeting. The other stalk dips the headlamps and provides for flashing them. The horn has a Continental note and equipment includes twin visors with vanity mirror, door pockets with strung flaps in the front compartment, a reasonable-sized but unlockable cubbyhole, a rather open but commodious parcels-well ahead of the gear-lever, “pulls” incorporating coathooks on the roof, a courtesy roof lamp with switch easily reached by the driver, a rigid grab-hold on the facia for the front-seat passenger (useful for a standing child, I was told!). anti-dazzle mirror, wrap-round winkers,rubber-tipped bumper overriders, driver’s exterior mirror, etc. The wipers seem to have been intended for a I.h.d car and the headlamps look like an afterthought—stuck into the grille. The electrical system is, surprisingly, 6-volt; with Bosch components and a Varta battery.

A very good feature of the B.M.W., at all events for the aged or otherwise weak, is the easy-load boot, the self-supporting lid of which is also the back panel, making for low-level loading; the spare wheel is under the floor. The car’s four doors shut with that desirable dull “clonk.”

The only trouble experienced during a considerable mileage was an occasional mysterious cutting out of the engine on r.h. bends. Low fuel level and carburetter flooding were suspect, but the fault was probably in the ignition lock, although driving the car in circles failed to reproduce the symptom. Fuel consumption is interesting—some drivers have got very poor results from the TI, but I gather improvements to the carburation and correct setting-up have given better figures. Driving really fast the 1800 TI would not do more than 20 m.p.g., probably less. But with some fairly rapid motoring combined with London traffic and negotiation of the entire length of the pathetically congested North Circular Road round that town, I obtained 24.5 m.p.g. of high-octane fuel. Due to a misunderstanding with a colleague over mileages, oil consumption wasn’t assessed but a quart would have been needed in a distance probably approaching 700 miles.

It is a car which, as an immediate change-over emphasised for me, has better road-holding, greater acceleration and a smoother engine than a Ford Cortina GT—and so it should, because in this country it costs over twice as much (£1,748). It is sometimes said that these B,M.W.s are the impecunious man’s Mercedes-Benz. I do not agree—the Mercedes is a more solid car, in the luxury-carriage tradition, in which you are more comfortable even than in a B.M.W., but which in saloon form with bigger engine, is not as quick as a B.M.W. TI; they are a different class of automobile.

This B.M.W. 1800 TI impressed me, in fact, as a very pleasant but not quite an exceptionally outstanding car—a vehicle of definite “Jekyll-and-Hyde” character, inasmuch as it can be docile, quiet and untemperamental until you use the power of its over-square o.h.c. engine, when, with a purposeful “hard” sound, it shows itself to have very excellent acceleration, especially if the gearbox is used, and to be able to exceed the ton by a very handsome margin. Indeed, ambling along at 10 m.p.h. above the maximum speed now permitted on Britain’s roads and motorways, this fast version of the B.M.W. 1800 is having a very easy time indeed, and so are its comfortably-ensconced occupant’s.—W.B.