In which the Editor discusses the latest FORD CORTINA GT, becomes a "customer" for a MERCEDES-Benz 220SEb and samples the latest Sunbeam Alpine Series V with the new Rootes 1,725-c.c. 5-bearing engine
I referred to the latest Ford Cortina GT last month when expressing disappointment over the new Ford Corsair V4 and as the excellent so-called Grand Touring Ford saloon was the subject of a detailed 12,000-mile appraisal in the issue of Motor Sport dated December 1964, I do not intend to write about it at length on this occasion. But it is such a thoroughly-satisfactory £783 car that it merits some further comment.
The car I wrote about in 1964 did not have Ford's Aeroflow ventilation and it was so that I could gain greater experience of this worthwhile innovation that Dagenham suggested that I should take over a later Cortina GT and see how I liked their windows-closed fresh-air system during the hot months of Summer. The car selected for this purpose—FOO 831B—proved to be an unlucky choice. Actually a 4-door version costing £897, it was entered by a motoring journalist for last year's National Caravan Rally. He succeeded in rolling the outfit at Woodcote Corner on the Goodwood circuit, which must have been a mighty fine sight and sound (I am sorry I missed it!) but which put the car out of commission for a considerable time.
When it was finally repaired it was lent to a racing mechanic just before I was to take it over, for a hectic journey to get some urgently-needed spares for a racing car, and in some quite inexplicable manner he ran the engine bearings. No sooner had that been put right than a chance stone shattered the windscreen. . .
As a result, FOO 831B came to me, not at the height of summer, but towards the end of last September—as it happened, in time for the Indian summer we enjoyed in 1965. This Cortina GT was quite standard, apart from wide-base rims to take Firestone F100 radial-ply tyres, which, as I have said previously, give very adequate cornering, even in the wet, in conjunction with the properly-located back axle of the more-recent GTs. Ford do not fuss about their road-test cars being little-used products in exceptional condition; apart from the aforesaid chequered career of this particular example, which made me handle it with suspicion at first, in case of a jinx, the odometer read 15,533 miles when I took it over.
Restraining myself from writing in repetitive detail in praise of this Ford, I will merely remind you of its remarkably good acceleration, excellent gear-change, smooth, willing 6,000-r.p.m. engine and the fact that, crude in some respects though it may be, and uncomfortably sprung, it contrives to have a touch of luxury in the manner in which the doors, boot-lid and oddments-box close. The facia now contains matching speedometer and tachometer and four smaller matching dials for fuel contents, oil pressure, dynamo charge and temperature. The lamps give excellent illumination and are dipped (and flashed) with the r.h. stalk turn-indicators lever which replaces the earlier, rather clumsy, flat-levers control system. Two neat flick-switches come easily to hand for lights and wipers, respectively, and the instrument lighting can be extinguished with an under-facia switch, although it is pretty anti-dazzle in any case. The spacious under-facia shelf is retained.
This Ford Cortina is such a useful car. It takes five persons comfortably and has an enormous, self-locking boot. It appeals to me as a very accelerative, tough vehicle which one does not have to fuss over, a particularly acceptable "second car" with such excellent performance that it is quicker than many "first choice" cars when pressed into service for a long, trying journey.
It so happens that a Ford Cortina GT suits me very well. There are times, of course, when I crave rather more luxury and quietness than this £800 family saloon provides. In conditions of exceptionally slippery going I confess to favouring the all-independently-sprung, front-wheel-drive B.M.C. products. But as a roomy, reliable utility vehicle with sports-car acceleration (I mustn't add speed!) this souped-up (if you will forgive the term, Mr. Fraser) Cortina is an admirable proposition, and the Aeroflow functions so well that quarter-lights are really unnecessary—they have been deleted from the Corsair V4. The Cortina's reliability is emphasised by remarking that in 5,000 hard, fast miles, which means between servicing, nothing whatsoever went wrong or had to be done to the car. It came to me with a l.h. turn-indicator which had to be manually-cancelled—no greater hardship and the only major fault throughout the car, except that passengers complain of a draught from the n/s quarterlight, even when this is closed—a legacy, no doubt, from the Goodwood roll-over, although the body is completely water-tight. The o/s fresh-air vent also refused to shut off properly, which I noticed when the car came to us earlier, for ordinary road-test purposes.
The engine used rather a lot of Castrolite after 18,000 miles a pint approximately every 600 miles. It displayed the usual Cortina GT economy, doing over 30 m.p.g. of premium for most of the mileage I ran the car, and never less than 29 m.p.g. This gives an average range of 223 miles on a tankful but a pessimistic fuel gauge tends to reduce this to something under 200 miles; the horizontal fuel filler is now slightly angled which makes all the difference when refuelling from a can, although a cranked funnel or spout is still desirable.
Starting on below-zero winter mornings was truly commendable, even when the temperature fell so low that the water pump had frozen—it freed off without damage and the addition of a quart of Castrol anti-freeze in the cooling system—the only coolant the engine required—obviated a recurrence of that alarming experience.
There really is nothing much else to report. The oil pressure rises rather slowly on the gauge, but eventually shows 35 lb./sq. in. There are, of course, five main bearings, which is reassuring when you remember that this 1 1/2-litre cooking engine has been persuaded to poke out 78 (net) b.h.p.—the more so as a Cortina 1200 owner to whom I gave a lift, after he had run out of petrol, told me that his three-bearing engine was about finished in this department after 40,000 miles.
The Ford Cortina GT may not appeal to the purists but it has proved very acceptable to rally drivers and saloon-car racers, and in my opinion Ford (Essex) deserve warm congratulations for having turned a bread-and-margarine family saloon into a highly-tuned motor car without in any way impairing its dependability. May I remind you that it goes from a standstill to 60 m.p.h. in 12,.1 seconds ?
As a contrast to Ford motoring I have been doing a considerable amount of motoring in a Mercedes-Benz 220SEb. Due to the advent of the new Mercedes-Benz models, the concessionaires in this country decided to make a special offer to those who were prepared to buy a 220SEb from their stock of 1965 cars. In order to emphasise the advantages of fuel-injection, which only Mercedes offer on a production 6-cylinder engine, they threw in with each 220SE purchased before December 31st the equivalent of enough petrel for the first 5,000 miles' driving. That this announcement of their generosity misses the target by a day calls for an apology, but if you were to place an order immediately, mentioning Motor Sport, they might at least dispatch you with a full tank. ...!
Although I know fairly well, and greatly admire, Mercedes-Benz cars (a road-test report on the Type 190 was published in Motor Sport for March 1962, we presented an account of a Continental journey in a Type 220SEb in the issue dated May 1961, and a road-test report on the Type 300SE in August 1964; some comments on a European journey with a Type 220S appeared in our issue for January 1963), the idea was for me to refresh my memory of the pleasure to be derived from driving one of these dignified cars, travelling again behind the three-pointed star of Stuttgart, and to assess the car in the same manner as a customer instead of as a motoring writer taking away a Press car for a long week-end. In fact, this 220SEb Automatic, with power steering—which no-one contrives better than Mercedes-Benz— was a brand-new car. I had intended to "take delivery" with the odometer trip-recorder at zero; in fact, by the time I got round to it they had done just 300 miles' running-in. I was told that this cosmopolitan right-hand-drive Mercedes-Benz on Firestone Sports tyres had had its 300-mile service and would require no more attention until it had done 2,000 miles.
Formalities at the uhra-modern premises of Mercedes-Benz (Gt. Britain) Ltd. on the Great West Road, which was the direct outlet to London Airport before M4 was opened, were brief. I was introduced to this substantial, shining, pale-beige-coloured 220SEb, given the buff-leather M.B. wallet (containing an extremely detailed instruction book in five languages, a spare parts list, supplements dealing with the DB automatic transmission, wheel-changing and removing protective wax from the chromium, lists of distributors, dealers and service agents in this country and in Europe (a very bulky publication, this latter book), the Bosch electrics list of their sales and service agencies, the car's own data sheet and its service booklet of tear-out coupons.), and my attention was drawn to the running-in instructions stencilled on the windscreen, which call for keeping to 50 m.p.h. for the first 300 miles, 60 m.p.h. between 300 and 900 miles, and then, from 900 to 1,200 miles, gradually increasing speeds to the car's maximum. In view of the weather I was glad to see a Shell anti-freeze label on the windscreen. . .
In a satisfactory frame of mind and comfortable, both physically and mentally, I drove off down the Gt. West Road towards Hampshire, my illusions momentarily shattered to fragments when the lever which controls heater-volume came off in my hand. However, this, the lifting of a piece of trim on the bonnet, and some sticky substance which had not been completely removed from the grip on the pocket in the driver's door (but to which my attention had been drawn) were the sole defects that this "customer" experienced in taking over a new Mercedes-Benz from the British concessionaires and running it in. That is, if you overlook a plastic licence holder, which fell off when heat reached the windscreen.
As on ether car's of this make, I found the unlabelled heater controls confusing at first and the volume of heat subdued until speed rose, unless the variable-speed heater fan, which has its own in-built warning light, was used—and towards full blast it is very noisy. It took me some time, also, to find the screenwashers, because they are operated, in conjunction with the wipers, by pulling a r.h. toggle which looks exactly like a bonnet release, whereas the instruction book told of foot-operated washers; the 2-speed wipers are normally switched-on from a neat pull-out knob adjacent to the very-pleasing-to-use lamps switch. However, full marks for washers which did not freeze-up on winter mornings. A pity the wipers are so noisy at the faster of the two speeds.
I set off religiously to run-in this 220SEb, not exceeding 50 for my first 300 miles, then keeping down to 60, even on a long run to Radnorshire and back—the need to glance frequently at the speedometer during this running-in process, speed creeping up unnoticed so easily, convinces me that driving anything capable of over 70 m.p.h. during the Fraser universal-speed-limit regime is going to be very tedious indeed.
The 220SEb proved to be fully up to expectations, it's seats extremely comfortable and well ventilated, with easily adjusted squabs, its padded, polished-wood facia the epitome of restrained luxury styling, the controls sensibly arranged. I will not recap on the previously referred to full road-test reports of this and similar Mercedes-Benz models beyond remarking, as I have before, that while these splendid cars do not stand out notably in any one respect, this is a product which does everything one expects of it efficiently, pleasurably and unobtrusively. The fuel-injection, apart from improving the economy of running of the 6-cylinder engine. provides a reliable cold-start and fast stall-free idling. The engine requires rather more churning over before it fires and two turns of the ignition-key (which also locks the steering without being inaccessibly close to the column, as on most cars with a steering-lock) may be called for, which is undignified, but only a disaster if you are making a Le Mans start. I think it must be this slight hesitation over starting which has turned Rolls-Royce against fuel-injection and not a tendency to stall when idling, in spite of what their Mr. Grylls once told me. Because, although the Mercedes-Benz hunted a little from cold, it showed no tendency to stall and could be left confidently to warm itself up and demist its windows without anyone in attendance.
The automatic transmission makes its presence felt and heard but works well, with that typical Mercedes-Benz precision of kick-down, and has, of course, hold positions for 2nd and 3rd speeds in the 4-speed gear train, so that by using the substantial l.h. stalk gear-lever, the 220SEb Automatic can he driven more or less as if it had a manual gear-change.
The vertical ribbon speedometer is not, entirely acceptable, but its colour-changing needle enables quick assessment of fact to be made, and the flanking dials for temperature (180 deg. F.), fuel contents (with useful warning light) and oil pressure (as usual at the top of the scale, at 45 lb./sq. in.) if a bit difficult to read, are discreet in size. Illumination is provided not only of this instrument cluster, but for the gear-lever quadrant and the clock, and a facia switch brings in rear-compartment lighting under control of the driver. But I am beginning to enthuse over the details of these beautifully-appointed cars, all of which have been covered in the aforesaid road-test reports. Running into fog around Chertsey one November evening I thought at first that I was in real trouble, behind a wide bonnet, with no external fog-lamps. Then I remembered to pull out the lamps' button, which brings in very useful spot lamps concealed in the imposing Bosch headlamp cluster, these throwing a non-dazzle beam to both sides of the road. This, coupled with the comparatively high driving position, made progression reasonably easy. I remember how useful these lamps were when ascending the Simplon Pass some years ago, the beams illuminating the hairpins very effectively.
Suffice it to conclude these "customer's" comments with the observation that I never so much as had to open the bonnet during the running-in mileage, at restricted speeds, but while the engine was still stiff, consumption of premium petrol was at the rate of roughly 20 m.p.g., and that I was, as usual, captivated by this medium-size luxury car with its efficient overhead camshaft engine. Although this is quite a bulky car the excellent steering lock makes it easy to park and drive in heavy traffic. Mercedes-Benz (Gt. Britain) Ltd are selling these cars for £2,781 each (power steering accounts for £84, automatic transmission for £200) and although this 220SEb, or 2.2-litre Super Einspritzmotor has been superseded by the 7-bearing 250SE, the extra power of the newer cars could be offset by an increase in weight, so, unless you must have the very latest from Stuttgart, the well-established older model is a very good proposition it one wants a prestige, luxury 105-m.p.h. saloon built by some of the most knowledgeable automobile engineers in the World.
The next car to come along and have itself tested was the Sunbeam Alpine Series V GT with the new Rootes 5-bearing 1,725-c.c. engine. There is not much to add to my remarks about this well-finished, compact, sports car in its 1,592-c.c. form, which Motor Sport published last September. The enlarged engine in Alpine form has twin Zenith Stromberg 150CD carburetters, modified alloy head and 9.2-to-1 c.r., giving 100 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m. and a 10% increase in torque. Rootes were the first British manufacturers to fit an alternator (35 amp.) instead of a dynamo, and the all-syncromesh gearbox has closer ratios than before-13.18, 8.41, 5.47, 4.39, 4.22 and 3.39 to 1. with Laycock de Normanville overdrive in 3rd and top. All this adds up to a nicer motor car, the former harshness when accelerating having been largely overcome, the actual acceleration enhanced, and the cruising speed elevated from an easy 70 to an effortless 80 or more m.p.h.—although the last named is of only academic interest to law-abiding drivers in these islands (Eire, accepted) until Fraser's folly is rescinded.
The Sunbeam came to me in so-called GT form, which really means a de luxe sporting 2-2 1/2-seater hard-top, there being two bucket seats, a shelf behind better suited to motoring dogs, which have retractable legs, than to children, and very generous window area. In fact, the rear compartment of the GT Alpine is larger than that of the sports tourer, the seat is padded, the facia walnut veneered, the steering wheel has a thick matching wood-rim, there are hinged ventilation vents, and a heater with two-speed blower which, if it doesn't push out all that much warmth, de-mists the glass efficiently. Twin sun-visors and a courtesy roof-lamp arc also provided. The interior is too beset with projecting items for those who are crash-conscious.
The Sunbeam is a very compact fast car, its controls conveniently located, the handling satisfactory in an old-fashioned manner, brakes excellent, steering light and play-free, and its equipment practical and lavish. The seats, their spring-loaded squabs adjustable in stages and held by friction, seemed uncomfortable at first but I came to accept them. The doors have good "keeps" but the driver's seriously restricts elbow-room. The engine called for a good deal of choke to get it to pull from a cold-start, in spite of an alloy inlet manifold, or maybe because of it, but once warm it went up to 6,000 r.p.m., the red mark on the tachometer (which goes on to 7,000 r.p.m.), very willingly, showing 40 lb./sq. in. oil pressure and 75C. water temperature, and using a quart of oil in 996 miles. It was not possible to assess fuel consumption absolutely accurately because the feed-pipe to the carburetters came adrift and a quantity of fuel was lost, distorting the overall figure. A rough check showed 24 m.p.g.-overall the Tiger gave 20.6 m.p.g.
The query really arises, where does this 4-cylinder Alpine fit in, since the advent of the V8 Tiger (Motor Sport road-test report, October 1965). Whereas the latter is virtually a one-gear, very smooth, extremely effortless and quiet performer, the Alpine has a noticeable exhaust burble, likes its gears to be stirred (all five, counting o/d), and is far more in the older sports-car tradition. With overdrive, earless centre-lock wire wheels, heater and Dunlop Road Speed RS 5 white-wall tyres, the Alpine GT costs £1,044 7s. 1d., compared to the Tiger hard-top at £1,505 18s. 9d., both with p.t.
So it is largely a matter of price and personal preference; in either guise the modern Sunbeam is a very acceptable sporting car. The gear-lever knob, and a stop on the spindle of the push-pull interior lamp, came off in my hand, but otherwise nothing broke.-W.B.