Road Tests: Fiat 1100R and MG 1100

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Return of an old friend — comment on the Fiat 1100R

Old friendships are often best but a long acquaintance can wear thin. I have known the Fiat 1100 for a long time. Before the war it came to me for test as the Balilla, a softly-sprung pillar-less saloon which I summed up as “a car of character and performance above the average.”

In 1955 I approved of the Tipo 103 Fiat New 1100 which a French journal had awarded an accolade for all-round excellence (there is nothing new under the sun) and later in the year I tried the Weber carburetted 1100TV, one of which George Symonds of G. N. Spider and R-type M.G. fame had just taken delivery. The year 1958 saw me leaving London in a road-test Fiat Millecento on the very day when President Giovanni Gronchi of Italy was paying a State Visit to the Guildhall. So when, last year, the 1100 was brought up to date I welcomed it as an old friend.

However, this model from the great Turin Empire, is now getting a bit long in the tooth. First impressions of driving the 1100R were that it was like trying to steer a railway truck that had left the rails, while sitting in a Turkish bath with someone rattling a box of nails outside the door. However, I soon became accustomed to the rather lurchy suspension and sticky action of the steering, discovered that I had been confused by a blue arrow and that the enormous volume of heat could easily be turned down, and found that although the engine is noisy in the low-ratio indirect gears, in the high top gear this lively power unit is reasonably unobtrusive. The Fiat 1100R is in the same class of longevity as our Morris 1000 and Ford Anglia and Fiat’s own 500 and 600 but although it has dated, its body lines are not immediately apparent as old-fashioned and it provides four doors, plenty of room for a car of this size, and has a big boot with the spare wheel under the floor and which is unobstructed by the petrol tank that occupies the o/s. The controls are simple but effective, the hooded speedometer reading optimistically to 100 m.p.h., press-buttons operating lamps, wipers, heater fan and facia lighting. The usual pair of Fiat l.h. stalk levers control lamps dipping/flashing and turn-indicators; warning lights replace dials. So this aspect of the car is quite modern. There are now separate, quite comfortable front seats (adjustable squabs £8 extra).

There is a reassuring atmosphere of durability about the Fiat 1100 and the new floor gear lever controls a pleasing gear change, although there is unduly strong spring-loading towards the upper ratios. Reverse goes in easily but notchily, beyond top gear. The brakes, discs at the front, and no longer with a transmission brake, have improved greatly since the earlier models and the treadle accelerator functions nicely. It is fortunate that this is an age of mini skirts and tight trousers, as otherwise the little hand brake, which is on the o/s of the propeller-shaft tunnel, might get mislaid. Curiously, the window-winders turn anti-clockwise to lower the windows.

Equipment embraces coat-hooks, roof-grabs, boot light, Exide battery, a lidded cubby hole, facia shelf, anti-dazzle mirror, screen-washers with the typical rubber press-button, and a steering column lock. The ignition key has various positions and can put out the lamps even with the facia button at “on” in characteristic Fiat fashion, so attention should be paid to the indicator lights. There is a petrol warning light that begins to flash 45 miles before the supply is completely exhausted. The engine needs quite a lot of choke to get it running from cold and the action is insensitive. Fuel consumption was disappointing, the average under admittedly unfavourable conditions being 31.8 m.p.g. I did not think to look under the bonnet until 400 miles had elapsed, when the dip-stick indicated that no oil had been consumed. The Pirelli SE58 Sempione 6.15 in. x 13 in. tyres held well in the wet.

Although in road-holding, ride, which is too lively, and economy this Fiat, which was introduced 29 years ago, has naturally been left behind by 1100s like those designed by Issigonis for B.M.C., and the price of £682 is costly in this country, this staunch and useful Fiat is likely to go on selling well in Europe for a considerable time to come.—W.B.

10,000 Miles with an M.G. 1100

The road-clinging qualities and comfortable ride of the Hydrolastically-suspended front-drive B.M.C. small cars are such that even sports-car drivers find them acceptable. So, having used a Morris 1100 on Editorial journeys for a considerable span a time, I was quite willing for an M.G. 1100 to replace it. This M.G. has since covered over 10,000 miles in my keeping and, as it seems to have become commonplace to criticise B.M.C. products, I would like to put on record how well it has served me and my family.

The only non-standard item I specified was leather upholstery, as on the Morris, but the car arrived with normal seats. So this bit of luxury was denied me. A pity, as not only do I prefer sitting on hide to being hugged by cloth or insulted by plastic but real leather would have added a touch of the Vanden Plas to the wood facia of the M.G. 1100.

As handed over, the odometer showed 2,111 miles and, apart from a slight hesitation in picking up from low speeds, a stiff gear change, and a loose top to one of the two S.U. carburetters, there were no delivery shortcomings. At first I thought the car sluggish and no appreciable advantage over the single-carburetter Morris but as mileage increased performance improved and is now adequate for a saloon car of this capacity and price-class—a top speed of 89 m.p.h., 0-70 m.p.h. in 30.2 sec., and comfortable cruising at an indicated 60 to 70 m.p.h. on ordinary roads. In a give-and-take 10,000 miles virtually nothing has gone wrong. The o/s 1/4-light catch became loose after 2,000 miles and as I was passing Lasham aerodrome some 2,500 miles later there was a bang which made me think a glider flying overhead had bombarded the car. This was the catch flying off, striking the body, and vanishing forever. (Incidentally, congratulations to the Lasham Gliding Centre for providing generous free car-parking for spectators.) At 6,000 miles the warning light that indicates a blocked oil-filter came on and a replacement Wix element was installed, which has since exceeded the anticipated life by 1,500 miles without becoming blocked. Otherwise nothing much has been amiss, although B.M.C. have serviced the car at very infrequent intervals. As they have not replaced the missing catch there is no point in locking the M.G., but it has not been stolen so far!

The car came with Dunlop Gold Seal C41 tyres, whereas I had got used to SP4ls on the Morris. One of these tubeless covers punctured after 7,300 miles and was replaced free of charge by Dunlop. The spare was put on as a replacement and to date has lost about 1 mm. of tread. The replacement tyre, after running about 3,500 miles, is almost unworn; both front tyres have 2 mm. of tread depth remaining, having covered a grand total of 12,500 Miles. The new type jack is very effective.

A recent check on petrol consumption showed this to be 37.8 m.p.g. and the engine found premium grade as acceptable as super, after the ignition was slightly retarded. I use mostly Total, this being the nearest filling station to base. Oil consumption is still a very satisfactory 4,000 m.p.g., using Castrolite or in recent months New Formula Castrol. The brakes are due for pad replacement or adjustment, the hand brake scarcely holds on hills, and the steering sometimes emits some odd noises. Although the M.G. has been kept in the open, washed infrequently, and wax-polished only once with that very effective Simoniz Super Blue, its red paintwork is in excellent condition apart from some rusting round the bonnet and the plating is presentable. The interior is also in thoroughly good order except for loose beading round the inside of the n/s rear door. The bonnet-release became so stiff that none of us was strong-fingered enough to open it and the Radiomobile radio works well on long wave but on medium wave only after it has been furiously slapped. The Smiths heater functions splendidly.

Otherwise, this hard-used M.G. 1100 continues to serve reliably, is pleasant to drive, and a surprisingly roomy family car into the bargain. It has not suffered drive-shaft trouble, fuel-pump or turn-indicator failures, starter or gearbox calamities or any of the maladies that made me glad to see the last of the Morris 1100. The breed has obviously improved.—W. B.