Rumblings, February 1971

Two wheels and four wheels—One of the claims to fame of Tazio Nuvolari was the fact that he was successfully racing motorcycles and cars at the same period of time, though he did not reach legendary fame with cars until he gave up motorcycle racing. Racing motorcyclists who have turned to car racing with varying degrees of success have been numerous through the ages, Rosemeyer going from DKW bikes to Auto-Union cars, for example, and Fred Dixon’s Riley exploits were notable for a dyed-in-the-wool motorcyclist. Wal Handley, Stanley Woods, Nello Pagani, Geoff Duke, Mike Hailwood, Bob Anderson and many more spring to mind, but without doubt the outstanding person was John Surtees, who changed from World Champion with MV motorcycles to World Champion with Ferrari cars.

In another branch of the sport Gordon Jackson has achieved similar distinction by winning two-and four-wheeled Championships, in this case in the world of “mud-plugging” or trials. In 1958 Jackson was British motorcycle trials champion, riding a 350 AJS, was runner-up in 1959, fourth in 1960 and runner-up again in 1961, in addition to which he won the British Experts motorcycle trial in 1957, 1958 and 1961 as well as innumerable smaller events. In 1961 he made motorcycle trials history, still unsurpassed, by riding through the whole of the six-day event in Scotland with the loss of only one mark, for a single “prod” with one foot, the rest of the time keeping his feet up on the footrests and climbing all the Scottish hills non-stop. In the overall world of trials riding Jackson was among the greats, surpassed since his retirement by the incredible Sammy Miller, who also has now retired, after being British Champion 11 years in succession. After retiring from competition riding Jackson concentrated on his farming business in Kent, but the lure of the muddy byeways and the slippery slopes was too much for him and he took to car trials, which were rapidly becoming more and more specialised, like motorcycle trials. Driving a BMC-powered Ibex special Jackson won the novices’ category last year and this winter has won the British Experts’ Trial Championship by a clear margin of 46 points. To be trials champion on two wheels and four wheels indicates a remarkable sense of balance, judgment, throttle control and sensitivity to tyre traction.

A faster Avenger—While approving of the light controls, nice gear-change and good manners of the Hillman Avenger (or Plymouth Cricket in America, which, with the Dodge Colt, one US motor journal calls Chrysler’s new drama—”Life with Whinny and Chirp”), we felt that it needed more power. So it is nice to be able to report that this was promptly attended to by Chrysler International’s engineers, who have developed a so-called GT version of the standard Avenger 1500.

They use a new camshaft, larger inlet valves and twin Zenith-Stromberg 150 CDS carburetters to extract 75 (DIN) b.h.p. at 5,400 r.p.m., from a power unit which originally gave 63 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m. Peak torque in the twin-carburetter engine comes at 3,750 r.p.m. instead of at 3,000 r.p.m., with a minimal gain of 1 lb./ft.

Consequently, it is top-end performance which has benefited. Maximum speed is up by 5 m.p.h. over the Avenger GL and 0 to 60 m.p.h. acceleration is cut back by three seconds, the time from rest to 80 m.p.h. by an impressive 14 seconds. These are worthwhile gains, especially as the docility, smooth-running and economy of the car have not been much impaired.

Just before Christmas we were invited to try the GT version. It provided a reminder of the general excellence of the car as a family saloon, with especially good marks for the gear-change, and performance was now adequate for long-distance driving. If any criticism is called for, it is that the throttles of the twin carburetters open rather suddenly, making a smooth getaway difficult (this used to be an habitual difficulty when an extra carburetter was grafted on to an engine but professional engineers should be able to eliminate it) and that the choke control, relying on split cables, came adrift and, having been thoughtlessly pulled right out, only major dismantling of the control binnacle would allow it to be reinstated. The carburation, too, was lumpy at low speeds, the car not liking top gear under 30 m.p.h.

Otherwise the GT is a worthwhile development of a very acceptable medium-sized saloon; particularly as it costs not much more than £60 over a similarly-equipped GL. The facia incorporates a tachometer as standard and the GT has Dunlop SP68 tyres which slightly raise the gear ratio and rather mediocre “styled” wheels. The radial-ply tyres on slightly wider rims enable the additional power to be satisfactorily exploited, although one is then reminded that the back axle will tramp a little if provoked. The styling, apart froth the inevitable (but unobtrusive) “GT” badges, stripes along the bottom of the body sides and an ugly steering wheel which blanks the fuel gauge and lamps control, is the same as that of the Avenger GL.

This Hillman is now a 96 m.p.h., 0 to 60 in 12 1/2 sec. car. The cold weather and lack of choke did not help fuel consumption checks yet we recorded the excellent figure of 32 m.p.g.; oil thirst was in the order of 900 m.p.p. The seats are upholstered in cloth/p.v.c. in a nice combination and the squabs of the front ones recline—the handle of the driver’s squab-adjuster came off in the hand. The GT Avenger further enhances the sound Hillman range. It sells for £1,083, inclusive of p.t.

Toyota 4-W-D.—There are other all-purpose vehicles besides the new Range Rover, which is reviewed elsewhere in this issue. Vehicles such as the Ranger’s older and poorer (but thoroughly successful) brother, the Land Rover, the Kaiser Jeep Wagoner, the old Champs, and the four-wheel-drive Toyotas, for instance. We coupled the latter with mention of British Leyland’s Range Rover recently, because, although unavailable here, these Japanese utilities have a notable following in America and elsewhere. A young lady of our acquaintance, on holiday in England from Florida, told us that on her return home she was disposing of her Ford Mustang in favour of a Toyota Land Cruiser, because the American boys and girls find them compact and so handy for driving down to the beach without fear of bogging-in, towing boats and suchlike.

However, the Range Rover is superior in many aspects—it has a light-alloy V8 engine whereas the 4-w-d Toyotas make do with an in-line six of 3,878 c.c. which, in spite of having 350 c.c. greater swept-volume than the GM-bred Rover engine, develops not quite as much power, admittedly at 750 lower r.p.m. These Toyotas have an even more car-like driving compartment, with bench front seat, but presumably the transmission tunnel intrudes on foot space for the central occupant. There is the option of floor or column-mounted gear-lever but only three normal forward speeds, and two in transfer, i.e., six against the Range Rover’s eight.

The vital difference between the British product and the Japanese, however, is that the Range Rover is always in 4-w-d, with a lockable third limited slip differential for maximum wheelgrip, whereas the drive to the Toyota’s four wheels is something you use for off-the-road soft terrain, but are not otherwise recommended to enjoy. And whereas the RR has coil suspension of its beam axles, and a self-leveller, the Toyota uses leaf springs; it has non-servo drum brakes to the Rover’s discs. At present the very new Range Rover comes in one model only, a 100-in. wheelbase two-door saloon, whereas the Toyota Land Cruiser’s are made in four wheelbase lengths, from 90 in. to 116 in., and can be had as canvas or vinyl top saloon, pick-up or four-door station wagon. Toyota claim an 80 m.p.h. cruising speed and the ability to climb gradients of 71%, from their 145 (SAE) h.p. Land Cruisers and offer various optional equipment, including facia control of the drop tailgate and screens which either open upwards or fold flat.

As motoring sport embraces specialised vehicles of this type and the uses to which they are put, readers’ experiences of the Range Rover and other all-wheel-drivers could be of interest.

“The Exeter”—We could not find any reference in any of the fixture lists we normally consult to this year’s MCC Exeter Trial. Yet “the Exeter”, which was first held in 1910, must not be forgotten. It remains, with the Motor Cycling Club’s Land’s End and Edinburgh Trials, about the only road event which can be entered, with some prospect of an award (and lots of enjoyment) using ordinary cars and on ordinary motorcycles and sidecar outfits.

Fortunately, “the Exeter” was not overlooked—plenty of enthusiasts remembered the 44th of the series, held on January 8th/9th. A total of 300 competitors entered. The usual parties of marshals turned out to control the event on observed sections like Fngle Bridge, Simms, Meerhay, Knowle Lane, etc. Travelling marshalls mingled with the riders and drivers. Thirty teams entered for the Team Award, with some splendid names and two Metropolitan Police teams, among them. Not only modern mounts, but 1920 30/98 Vauxhall, J2, PA, s/c PB, TA and TD MGs (two of them “Cream Crackers”), an HRG, a couple of BSA three-wheelers, Dellows, Ford Populars, a 1936 s/c MG “Aramis” from the 1936 team, a 1931 Riley Nine, a 1933 Morgan three-wheeler, several pre-war motorcycles, a girl in an Austin 7, a 1935 MG Magnette, an Austin Nippy and W. A. G. Goodall amongst the Morgan Plus 8 drivers maintained the right “Exeter” atmosphere.

There was a special two-seater, its cheerful occupants protected only by a couple of aero-screens, the aluminium bonnet of which bore the name SUNBEAM in big letters, but which was, in fact, a 2.2-litre Sunbeam Talbot with saloon body removed, and for which exultant acceleration was claimed. Twenty combinations and modern cars from Imp and VW to TR4A completed a varied entry. Even the name of the Clerk of the Course, H. W. Tucker-Peake, was nostalgic! May we remind you that this year’s “Land’s End” takes place on April 9th/10th and that the MCC is Britain’s oldest sporting motor club for motorcycles and cars?