TWOESTATE CARS Road Impressions of the Austin A60 Countryman and the new Vauxhall Victor

IMAKE no excuse for publishing road-test impressions of estate cars in MOTOR SPORT, because present-day vehicles of this kind should handle as well, or virtually so, as equivalent saloons and these spacious vehicles are now widely sought after by the motor-racing fraternity, boat and sailing enthusiasts, as tenders to veteran and vintage cars and so on, apart from family motorists getting into the queue for Brighton or Southend.

A greater obstacle than that of deciding to write about them is knowing what to call them. Austin solve this problem by introducing the expressive word ” Countryman ” and as a general term I favour ” estate car,” even if the Sort of estates such cars arc parked in consist these days of Close-parked mirror-image houses rather than wooded acres. But, whether you know them as estate cars, station wagons, or shooting brakes, they are very useful to those who have done their duty to their country especially if they have a dog as well as kids.

I have recently tried two estate cars that were new at the last London Show—the Austin A6o Countryman and the new Vauxhall Victor.

The A6o in Countryman form retains the former A55 bodyshell, seating five, with 51 cu. ft. load area, but has the new 1,622,c.c. engine giving 61 b.h.p. at 4,5oo r.p.m. and 90 lb./ft. torque at 2.,too r.p.m., and the restyled instrument panel. The axle ratio has been raised to 4.55 to r to suit the 153-c.c. capacity increase and stiffer back springs cope with the heavier loads the Countryman may be called upon to carry. Before I took over, a colleague employed the A6o to carry some very heavy farm loads and reported that the car thrived on such treatment and, if anything, handled better when heavily loaded. The handling, ride, Steering and braking merit no

To load the Audin 460 Countryman you drop the tailgate and raise the self-prt,pping rear rOindore. With the rear seat folded there 57. t cubic feet or 612 in. of floor space.

particular mention; I note that the speedometer reads to too m.p.h. but I would not care to drive a Countryman at that speed.

This doesn’t arise, for the indicated maxima in the gears are 25, 44 and 65 m.p.h., and without displaying exceptional acceleration the A6o works up to a 7o-m.p.h. Cruising speed, its best gait being around 63 m.p.h. Top speed is Over So m.p.h. but the indecisive steering and rather ” lifty ” ride do not encourage one to go so fast. Theindirect gears hum and there is just a trace of noise from the back axle. The back seat sometimes tends to rattle, whereas it is always my hope that the modern estate car will be as silent (and as well-heated and as controllable) as a saloon. In these respects the Countryman disappoints. . . .

The gears are changed by a stout 1.h. steering-column lever which works lightly and precisely, if lumpily. It is so long that the centrally-mounted facia clock is obscured when 3rd gear is engaged, and its loose knob, which unscrewed itself as the lever was used, did nothing to soften the distaste I have of all but the very best gear-changes of this type. Reverse is reasonably easily engaged, located beyond and gear position; the lever is not spring-loaded. The lower gears are uppermost and the movements considerable, while 1st gear was often difficult to engage. The new facia is in imitation walnut, heavily hooded with crash-padding over the cubby-hole and the matching twin dials before the driver. The latter comprise speedometer with tripcum-decimal and total distance recorders and combined oil gauge, thermometer (11, N, C) and fuel gauge. The oil gauge

Ia load the Vauxhall Victor estate car you lift the hack panel’ trehich remains open automatically. With the rear seat folded there is .45 cubic feet or 65 in. of floor space.

registered approximately 6o lb./sq. in. with engine hot or cold, and the fuel gauge read down to a gallon even with a couple left and stayed at this reading until the tank was dry. Minor controls consist of four flick-switches on a plated panel, with the ignition key between them; they are labelled, from I. to r., “

Blower,” ” Lamps,” ” Panel,” ” Wipers.” Unlit at night, these switches can be a cause of fumbling. A couple of labelled knobs look after choke and screen-washers and two harsh quadrant levers, set At an angle up the facia, control .a rather insipid heater, and there is the usual foot dipper. The test-car had a Radiomobile radio, not of the push-button variety.

There is a big thick-rimmed 2-spoke steering wheel (the centre horn button sounding a blatant note on twin windtone horns would he better replaced by a horn ring), and the pendant pedals are biased noticeably to the right. Very good is the location of the hand-brake lever, down on the right where it is extremely easy to use but does not obstruct entry and exit via the driver’s door.

Visibility is excellent, the wipers clearing the big screen etketiyely and the bonnet dropping between prominent front wings; the view forward would be even better with a smaller steering wheel. There are quarter-lights, devoid of locks and with ineffective rain-gutters, in the front doors and also in the rear doors, the latter apt to blow shut. The doors have rather crude interior handles (which pull back, however, to open them) and metal ” pulls,” and the window winders are low set in front (three turns front, i turns rear, to fully open the windows). It is possible to lock all doors from within, or to lock them without a key from outside, and childproof catches are fitted. But I was able to .unlock the doors with a Mini-Minor boot key!

A well-contrived 1.h. stalk, with indicator on its tip, operates the direction-flashers. A wide but shallow rear-view mirror was too flimsily mounted; exterior mirrors were fitted, incorrectly set on the test-car.

In spite of the steering-column gear-lever only two passengers are provided for in front, as there is a transmission tunnel and separate scats, although if they have been slimming you can get two in beside the driver. The lined cubby-hole is deep and roomy but its unlockable lid has a clumsy and dangerous catch.

A lipped shelf, divided by the heater box, with inbuilt ash-tray (lid of imitation walnut!), provides further useful stowage but is set rather far under the facia.

The seats are very comfortable without offering outstanding support, and the driver adopts a healthy upright stance. Commendably, the contact surfaces are upholstered in real leather but the doors lack wood fillets, trim is in vinyl-treated fabric, and thus I regard the pseudo-walnut facia as out of keeping, especially in an estate car. Swivelling vizors are fitted but there is no vanity mirror—perhaps Austin consider that countrywomen don’t use make-up ?

You load a Countryman through a drop tail-gate, over which it is sometimes necessary to lean, and a lift-up back window. The latter is released by a lever working rather crude ” bent-wire ” plungers and is self-propping. If extra long loads necessitate leaving the tail-gate down, the rear number-plate, being on the gate itself, is rendered illegal. The rear compartment is illuminated automatically when the rear window is raised.

‘1-Wo ash-trays are provided on the back of the front seats for the occupants of the wide back scat. A single interior lamp has courtesy action when the front doors are open.

The A6o has a very flexible engine, for those so timid or lazy that gear-changing is eschewed. It starts easily but likes choke for a while, otherwise it is sluggish until warm. Surprisingly, it ran-On very viciously after being switched off, although fed on EssO Extra. The As was notably economical and the A60 continues this desirable trend. It gave better than 35 m.p.g. on a long run and averaged 28.9 m.p.g. overall. The filler is a crude flap in the near-side rear wing, calling for a key to open it. In 960 miles no oil was required. The steering is responsive rather than t00% accurate, but gives the impression of being pleasurably high geared. It calls for

• 21 turns, lock-to-lock, plus a little free play. No kick-back or bad vibration is transmitted and the action is very light, parking calling for scarcely more effort than driving. There is rather half-hearted castor-return action. On a wet road the tail breaks ‘away early, accentuating the oversteer tendency, but the adequately powerful brakes stop the car in a straight line. There is relatively little roll on corners, and the ride is comfortable. The test-car had Britax belts for the front-seat occupants. The back seat folds down to form a double-bed with pillow, and stainless steel window surrounds are used. The boot lid carries the name ” Austin Cambridge,” which goes back to pre war days; the catalogue makes no mention of a Cambridge Countryman.

There is nothing outstanding about the A6o’s handling or performance and some of the detail work could be better arranged, but the Countryman is a staunch maid-of-all-work for staunch Britishers, comfortable, riding well, economical, and nicely equipped. It costs £978 Cs. 5d. inclusive of p.t. (radio extra). I regard its appearance as chunky and rugged rather than handsome.

The new Vauxhall Victor estate car is different from the Austin —more lively, not quite so lavishly equipped, a very eager performer in spite of a less powerful, slightly smaller engine, for it weighs nearly 3 cwt. less. The front scatS, separate on the test-car, are hard but comfortable, and give good support, the plastic:: upholstery .gripping securely. Visibility is good, the plated trim of the facia a trifle garish. The small steering wheel is sensibly r laced, and the pedals are not off-set; the treadle accelerator has too much movement. A facia pull-out-and-twist hand-brake is less convenient than the Austin’s r.h, lever but the floor gear-change, operated by a splendidly-placed, short rigid central lever, is far nicer than the Austin stalk. This 4-speed all-synchromesh floor-controlled box

is an extra which every Victor purchaser will surely specify. The change sets new standards for a low-priced British car. This is what I call an ” unmechanical ” change, becatise you cannot feel the gears meshing. The -synchromesh is unbeatable, yet this is such a smooth and pleasant change that I am astonished to learn that it owes nothing to Porsche patents. Slightly stiff on the rest-car, it would undoubtedly ease off to provide a quick, positive finger-and-thumb gear-change which makes driving the

new Victor a real pleasure. The gate is conventional, pictured on the lever knob, with reverse forward outside the 1st gear position. The other controls consist of under-facia levers for heater and demister, which has the luxury-car element of heat-control that remains as set, irrespective of the ambient temperature of the outside air or the rate of flow. This heating system incorporates a 2-speed booster; there is also a scuttle flap to admit fresh air,

controlled by another under-facia lever. It is efficient at screen demisting, at the expense of noise from the blower which comes in automatically when full demist is selected, hut does not do much to warm the feet. Small knobs, with symbols as to their function, control choke; noisy but efficient wipers (with washer brought in by pulling out the knob) and lamps, the last-named knob bringing in rheostat instrument lighting and the roof lamp by rotating its knob. Before the driver are a 90-m.p.h. A.C. speedometer with total plus decimal (but no trip) distance recorder, and a combined dial for fuel contents (vague but more accurate than on the A6o) and water temperature. Otherwise, warning lights are used. A positive lb. stalk operates the self-cancelling directionflashers (with separate non-dazzle warning lights between the ” Victor ” motif on the facia). The r.h. direction indicator occasionally failed to cancel. A full horn-ring sounds a rather subdued horn. The controls are cleverly contrived but somewhat crude. The facia sill contains an ash-tray and there is a roomy cubby-hole with push-button on the facia to release its lid (a lock is extra!), which drops down rather viciously. Roth A60

and Victor have recesses to hold cups in their cubby-lids, the former two, the latter three. The ignition key works the starter and there was a Vauxhall non-push-button radio on the test-car. There is no facia shelf and no door pockets, and I missed the generous stowage found in the A6o. The central rear-view mirror was loose but was augmented by excellent wing-mirrors, although the Off-side one is obscured in rain by an unswept area of the screen. Two loose rubber open pattern mats are provided on the floor. The front doors have lockable quarter-lights (the handles for which are clumsy and catch one’s sleeve and with glitters as inefficient as those of the A6o) and give courtesy action of the roof lamp, even if all lights are off. The rather stiff window winders call for 11 turns front, two turns

rear, to open the windows. The rear quarter-lights are fixed. There are sill door locks, which I like, but it is possible to get locked out of the Victor if the ignition key is inside, which also applies to the A6o. This key opens all doors. The exterior push buttons lie parallel with the doors—the front near-side door lock froze rather quickly and couldn’t be opened from inside or outside the car, which could be a fault of the elaborate construction. A

firm action was required to prevent certain of the doors from bouncing open. The interior door handles lift to open the doors. There is crash-padding along the facia but many projections beneath it. There are useful arm-rests on all doors, and swivelling anti-dazzle vizors, but again a vanity mirror is lacking. Twin ash

trays are provided for rear-seat occupants. Although the propeller-shalt tunnel is very shallow the front seats would not normally he used for three occupants with the floor gear-lever, but a stalk-change of the 3-speed box and 3 bench seat are available.

The back seat folds away extremely easily, to give 65 in. (45 cu. ft.) loading capacity, its cushion, now vertical, forming a bulkhead. With the rear Seat (which has no centre arm-rest) in use there is 431. in. (20 Cu. ft.) luggage space. The floor of the entire rear compartment is covered in plastic-faced felt carpet, with chromium-plated rubbing strips, these being provided on the rear-seat squab as this, folded, forms part of the floor. The A6o’s rubber floor cover appeared easier to wash. On the road the new Vauxhall Victor is a lively and surefooted performer. Indicated speeds of 27, 43 and 7t m.p.h. are possible in the gears but the engine is then very frenzied. Third

gear is a pleasantly high ratio which it pays to use frequently.

The ride is hard at low speed, otherwise rather lively, and on any but smooth roads a considerable amount of body-shell tremor is transmitted, making the seats rattle and the structure thump; this in spite of the leniency of Michelin tyres. But the ride itself is comfortable over had surfaces, at all events for frontseat passengers.

The steering is very light, almost over-light at” t.d.c.,” and remains so for parking thanoeuvreS. It transmits vibration from the body-shell rather than kick-back. There is mild castorreturn action and unless heavily loaded the cornering tendency is to understeer very slightly, with roll very well subdued. The Michelin tyres hold well on slippery roads. The steering is geared 3 turns, lock-to-lock, with a little free play. On rough roads the presence of a rigid back axle is sometimes evident.

The Lucas lamps give an excellent beam and remain efficient when dipped.

The spare wheel lives in the oft-side rear-wheel arch, under a zip cover, whereas Austin stow theirs under the floor. The Victor estate car has a,single lockable lift-up tail-gate which goes up easily on its own and renders loading easy, with protection from rain. The number-plate is on the gate, which precludes driving with long objects extending. The rear window anti-mist panel became detached during the test. With the tail-gate up the interior lamp comes on automatically but is rather far forward.

The exterior lines of the new Victor make it simple to wash and I referred last month to the conscientious undersealing and painting, to which is added the satisfaction of having only four nipples to grease at I2,000-mile intervals and sump-oil changes 3,000 miles -apart. A clever feature is a pocket on the near side of the scuttle, which holds the servicing book with the mileage at which the next check is due prominently displayed.

Fuel consumption ? Very slippery conditions called for caution during the first check and, with a great deal of cold starting and pottering about, I got 26.6 m.p.g. On a faster run consumption dropped to 29.3 mpg., an average of 27.9 m.p.g. The filler is an unsecured bayonet cap under a flap in the near-side rear wing. No oil was consumed in 625 miles.

The engine runs quietly but there was a mechanical complaint when accelerating from 30-35 m.p.h. in top gear. It did not pink or run-on but operated at a low temperature in cold climatic conditions.. The Lockheed brakes are ponierful and light to apply, with no vices. I understand that at Earls Court more inquiries were received for the Victor estate car than for the saloon and we can expect to see a great many of these versatile, durable and brisk cars on our roads this year. The screen is of Triplex ” Zone toughened ” safety glass. The Victor came with many extras, including Britax front-seat safety-belts and Lucas ” Ranger ” and ” Fogranger ” spot-lamps. These inflate the price to nearly that of the A6o. The former is better finished and equipped, and quieter, the latter more fun to drive. I cannot refrain from concluding with the old expression ” Yer pays yer money and takes yet choice.”—W. B.