Luxury and high-performance from 1-1/2- litres

The Remarkable Borgward Isabella Coupé

There is a growing demand for a car which, although luxuriously appointed and pleasing to look upon, has an engine in keeping with the  requirements of those owners who do not enjoy paying big bills for fuel which an unimaginative government taxes, in this country, at 2s. 6d. per gallon. When such requirements are met in an economical 1-1/2-litre car which, in addition, can reach nearly 100 rmp.h. and set up excellent average speeds, the result is a quite outstanding automobile, the name of which is Borgward!

Motor Sport has been aware of the excellence and unique qualities of the car from Bremen for some considerable time. In October, 1955, we published our impressions of the Borgward Isabella saloon and followed this up with a road-test report on the TS (Touring/Sports) saloon in the issue of June, 1956.

Last month, as fog closed about this damp little island, we were able to sample the handsome Borgward Isabella coupé over a distance, so far as the writer is concerned, of 270 miles.

This coupé has the 75 b.h.p, four-cylinder engine, which is the TS high-efficiency push-rod o.h.v. unit of 75 by 84.5 mm. (1,493 c.c.), using a light-alloy cylinder head, Solex dual-choke downdraught carburetter with one throttle opening in advance of the other, and compression ratio of 8.2 to I. From this engine a maximum speed of just short of 100 m.p.h. is available, together with the acceleration figures shown in the accompanying data table, which represents a truly creditable performance from a roomy, by no means small, 1-1/2-litre motor car.

The pleasure of owning this distinctive and distinguished-looking Borgward coupé does not end with being able to outpace many cars of two litres and greater capacity. The Isabella coupé is very pleasant to drive and is equipped and finished in a style which befits its English purchase price of almost £2,000.

The lines of this red coupé which we drove-away from Metcalfe and Mundy’s into the November dusk were so Continental as to arouse glances of interest and admiration from bystanders.

The radiator grille incorporates the Borgward diamond badge, the lines of the coupé top are superb, but to some eyes the luggage boot is rather too long and wide to blend with the rest of the car, although the test example did not have the tail fins which became available this year. Incidentally, it is incorrect to refer to this coupé as the TS, because, unlike the convertible coupé, it is available only with the TS engine, which gives 15 b.h.p. more than the normal 1-1/2-litre Borgward engine. The interior arrangements differ somewhat from the TS saloon, notably in respect of minor controls and ignition lock.

The interior of the car is beautifully upholstered in typical German fashion, the floor has a “pile carpet”  and the car abounds in ingenious items which provide a pleasing touch of individuality.

The two seats are separate, easily-adjustable over a wide range, and have Porsche-style adjustable squabs which let down to form a pair of beds. These squabs are deep and high, but we found the seat cushions rather too hard, and their flat formation does not help to hold the driver in place when cornering speed is high. In general, however, these seats are of generous width and depth, although the rather prominent piping might prove tiresome to a girl wearing a thin summer frock.

The wide trailing doors provide easy entry and egress and behind the seats, reached by folding their squabs forward, is a wide if shallow upholstered occasional bench seat, the back of which can be folded down to form a useful, carpeted luggage shelf, with a deep wide well behind it. Storage of maps and small objects is well provided for in this Borgward coupé because there are useful spring-loaded, cord-mesh map or magazine claps on the inside of the scuttle for driver and passenger, as well as generous, elastic-topped pockets in each door, and a very useful lipped shelf below the big rear window. There is also a lined, lidded cubby-hole before the passenger. Another pleasing item is the provision of arm-rests constituting “pulls” for the doors, which would otherwise be difficult to close. There are no quarter-windows, nor do the rear side windows open; the door windows need four-and-a-half turns of the handles, which work lightly, to open or close them fully. These windows have exposed tops and, in a body otherwise notably free from wind noise, a whistle came front the near-side window when the other window was fully up. Body rattle is almost entirely absent. The screen pillars are not unduly thick and forward visibility is good, the near-side wing just visible to an average-height driver. The wide bonnet, with central chrome strip, remains free from dither on bad roads. There is an outside rear-view mirror, apt to cause dazzle at night.

Although the Borgward has a steering-column gear lever it is not really possible to accommodate three grown-ups comfortably in front, because a very wide transmission tunnel restricts leg room and, in the r.h.d. model, makes it necessary to stow the left foot under the clutch pedal.

The steering-wheel, which carries a full horn ring sounding an unexpectedly deep and sober horn, is set well clear of the facia. The throttle pedal is set a trifle too far to the left and, as it isn’t rubber-covered, the foot tends to slip from it.

On this coupé version of the Borgward Isabella the minor controls are in the form of a row of  “organ stops” along the centre of the facia. Frankly, we do not like this arrangement. Although the function of each press-button is obvious from a small diagram above it, if the facia lighting is extinguished it isn’t at all easy to find a control wanted in a hurry. For left to right these big white press-buttons control the following items, the far left hand one being a spare: dash lighting (which is good and subdued), headlamps, side lamps, fog-lamps (in fact, on the test car, replaced by two separate knobs on a little panel at the right-hand end of the facia for the twin yellow-bulb Johnson spot-lamps), wipers (which button, fully depressed, brings in a constant flow of screen-washer fluid), heater fan (for use when parked and noisy), and parking lamps. The very powerful Bosch headlamps are dimmed by a slightly awkward foot-button — and when dimmed are still effective. On the left of these massed controls is a button which cuts off the heating water cock but had seized up on the test car. A button on the opposite side of the facia operates the choke, and in the centre is a cigarette lighter into the socket of which can be plugged a miniature inspection lamp  —  an excellent Borgward feature.

This metal two-colour, rather “Americanised” facia incorporates two drawer-type ashtrays and there is an electric clock on the cubby-hole lid, u/s on the car we tested. The heater has two sensible control panels, one for the passenger, one for the driver, from each of which a small lever protrudes. Set to “1” there is no heat or defrosting; set to “2” the defroster comes in; set to “3”  the heat and defrosting come on; set to “4” there is heat only. Had the cut-out control been functioning air-conditioning would have been available instead of heating; as it was the interior of the car soon became uncomfortably hot. The screen wipers function quietly and, with the washers, deserve full marks for efficiency.

The instruments are set in a flat panel before the driver and include a VDO 120-m.p.h. speedometer with commendably steady needle, but calibrated only every 20 m.p.h. and incorporating a mileage recorder sans decimals, and with no trip recorder. The sensible flashers indicator-lights are set in the base of the speedometer dial and four other indicator-lights flank it, for “oil motor” (low oil pressure), high beam, gearbox oil pressure (inoperative on normal gearbox cars) and cooling temperature warning. The last-named seems a slightly unnecessary item, inasmuch as just to the right of the speedometer is a big temperature gauge. This never exceeded 174 deg. F. during the tests, even when taking performance figures. To the left of the speedometer is a matching fuel gauge, seemingly very accurate and steady-reading, calibrated  “Empty, half, full”.  The steering wheel has two spring-type spokes and useful finger-grips beneath its rim.  The direction-flashers are set in the tops of the front wings where they are visible to the driver; they are operated by a little lever protruding from the right of the steering column, which is 100 per cent. convenient to use. The big swivelling rear-view mirror is of smoked glass to obviate dazzle and effective, if slightly cut-off by the line of the roof. Twin sponge-rubber anti-dazzle vizors are fitted, which swivel sideways.

The gear-lever is a slender lever protruding from the left of the steering column; it is faintly spring-loaded to the upper-gear positions, which are below first and second gear locations and it is pulled out and pushed beyond the first gear position to engage reverse. The hand-brake lever is well located under the centre of the facia and has a twist-to-release action.

There is crash-padding above the facia. The ignition key is inserted into a rather inaccessible lock under the steering column, which it locks. The tiny starter-button is beside the key. Unless the ignition is “on” horn and wipers are inoperative. A sensibly bright interior lamp on the offside centre door pillar has its own finger-switch but comes on as the doors are opened.

An extremely effective item of the Borgward’s repertoire is a headlamp flasher in the centre of the steering wheel. This flashes these powerful lamps as warning of overtaking even when the lamps are not switched on and, moreover, if held down, provides an automatic flashing action—a splendidly useful safety feature for use on German and next year’s British motor roads. Incidentally, the car comes with a good instruction book in a neat zip-fastener folder delightfully labelled  “Wagen-Papiere.”

The interior of the Borgward coupé is upholstered in pleated leather and the windows have pleasingly deep sills. Some of the exterior plating showed signs of rust.

To continue with this static description of the car before recording driving impressions and performance figures, the luggage boot is deep and not so shallow as it looks. Its lid is released by pulling a toggle on the near-side of the body behind the front seat but this is not easy to operate from inside the car. The boot lid is held open automatically by twin torsion-bars. The boot has a flat carpet-lined floor but the spare wheel is under this, so that a puncture, which was experienced during the test, necessitates unloading all the luggage.  A T-handle wheel-brace is clipped on the near-side inside the boot, its handle extremities incorporating useful 7 mm. and 9 mm. sockets; the jack is clamped on the opposite aide of the boot. The petrol filler cap is beneath a spring-loaded flap in the off-side rear wing. The cap is not secured.

The bonnet is released by a hanging handle under the facia and after the usual safety-catch has been released, it props automatically. The compact 1-1/2-litre engine has the dual-choke two-stage carburetter above it, topped by a clip-on drum-style air cleaner drawing warm air from a spout directed towards the radiator. The oil filler is accessible, the bent-wire dip-stick close to the exhaust manifold on the off-side but reasonably easy to use. Small-bore heater pipes run to heater boxes each side of the engine compartment and the plugs are on the near-side, while the Exide battery is on the shelf behind the engine. Seeing the size of this power unit makes the performance figures obtained seem all the more creditable!

As fog persisted at the beginning of the test we repaired to a measured quarter-mile, to check the Borgward’s speedometer and record some acceleration times. The speedometer was found to be unduly optimistic, being 0.9 m.p.h. fast at  20 m.p.h., 1.7 m.p.h. at 40 m.p.h., and 3.4 m.p.h. fast at 60 m.p.h. Thus, although indicated speeds of 29 m.p.h. in first gear, 53 m.p.h. in second gear and 74 m.p.h. in third gear were seen, the genuine maxima have to be adjusted somewhat drastically (see panel). The makers claim respectively, 25, 45, 70 and 95 m.p.h. Normally, changes-up were made at 40 m.p.h. in second gear and 60 m.p.h. (indicated) in third gear. Having corrected the speedometer we recorded the following acceleration figures :—

0-60 m.p.h., mean of two-way runs: 17.8 sec., best: 17.7 sec.

s.s. 1/4-mile: 20.8 sec., best: 20.7 sec.

These figures were recorded after reasonable practise, two-up, with about three-quarters of a tankful of petrol. The Borgward performs best if high r.p.m. are attained in each gear, the engine peaking at 5,200 r.p.m., as would be expected of a 1-1/2-litre engine in a comparatively large, heavy car. A time of 23.3 seconds was required to accelerate from rest to 60 m.p.h. (true) and then brake to a standstill and this could no doubt have been improved on a dry road.

Although hampered on the day of the test by fog, which precluded checking maximum-speed, the Borgward Isabella coupé was taken to Dorset and back. During this main road run we formed a high opinion of the comfort of the suspension, which is sufficiently flexible to kill road shocks (it is coil spring swing-axle i.r.s., coil spring and wishbone i.f.s.) but which does not cause roll when cornering fast and is well damped. The steering is extremely pleasant, with no kick-back, a light, smooth action, even for parking, and mild castor-action. The wheel transmits some vibration and requires three-and-a-half turns, lock-to-lock, with a commendably small turning circle. This is accurate, “quick” steering, with no lost-motion. The control characteristics are neutral, neither over nor under-steer predominating, while there is no noticeable swing-axle instability unless very sudden swerves are made, but ambitious drivers can use the power of the engine to assist the tail round corners, rear-end breakaway being fairly easy to promote; the Pirelli tyres do not protest.

The gear change is one of the best steering-column changes we have tried. The lever moves lightly, if with rather a long travel, and very rapid changes can be made without more than mildly beating the synchromesh, which is provided on all four forward gears. We prefer a floor lever, especially when, with a small engine, much changing has to be done, but this Borgward steering-column control is outstanding of its kind.

The clutch engages slightly jerkily unless care is used, and there is mild gear noise in the indirect ratios. The brakes on the test car were fitted with experimental linings and tended to squeal. They need rather too much pedal pressure for the action to be unconsciously progressive but they are otherwise reasonably powerful, if not entirely convincing. The engine is noisy when working hard, but starts easily without the  choke, warms up at once and does not pink or run-on. It needed no replenishment of oil or water. No opportunity was available for making accurate fuel consumption checks but a tankful of fuel gave a range of over 270 miles, performance tests included, which represents approximately 27 m.p.g.;  although the makers recommend carrying a tin of petrol, the tank can only be replenished from a specially shaped can.

This 1-1/2-litre Borgward Isabella coupé thus combines an attractive appearance, comfort, luxury, high-performance embracing 95-98 m.p.h. and good acceleration with commendable economy. It seems a decidedly worthwhile proposition at a price, in this country of £1,330 (£1,996 7s. inclusive of purchase-tax and import duty). Indeed, in many ways this handsome coupé, and the spacious Isabella saloons, are in a class of their own and worth close study by those who seek a car which covers the miles untiringly, incorporates many interesting features, and is indecently fast and roomy by 1-1/2-litre standards.   —  W. B.


The Borgward Isabella Coupé

Engine:  Four cylinders, 75 by 84.5 mm (1,493 c.c). Push-rod overhead valves.  8.2 to 1 compression ratio. 75 b.h.p. at 5,200 r.p.m.

Gear ratios:  First, 16.3 to 1;  second,  9.04 to 1;  third,  5.7 to 1;  top,  3.9 to 1.

Tyres:  5.90 by 13 Pirelli Extraflex tyres on bolt-on steel disc wheels.

Weight:  1 ton 1 cwt. 2 qr (without occupants, but ready for the road with approx half-a-gallon of petrol).

Steering ratio:  3-1/2 turns lock-to-lock 

Fuel capacity:  10.6 gallons (Range approximately 284 miles).

Wheelbase:  8 ft. 6-1/2 in.

Track:  Front, 4 ft. 4-5/8 in.

Dimensions:  14 ft. 7 in. by 5 ft. 8-1/4 in. by 4 ft. 6in. (high).

Price:  £1.330 (£1,996 7s. inclusive of purchase tax and import duty).

Makers:  Carl F. Borgward, GmbH. Automobilwerke, Bremen 11, Germany.

Concessionaires:  Metcalfe and Mundy Ltd., 280 Old Brompton Road, London S.W.5.


Performance Data

Speeds, m.p.h., in gears (after speedometer error corrected):

First:  27;  Second: 50;  Third:  70


0 – 60 m.p.h, two way runs  —  17.8 sec.

0 – 60 m.p.h., best run  —  17.7 sec.

Standing-start 1/4 mile (wet road):

Average — two-way runs  —  20.8 sec.

Best run  —  20.7 sec.