Around and About, January 1975

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Around and About

The Fiat 131 Mirafiori

FIAT’S penetration of the European car market dropped from a peak of 13.7% in 1971-1972 to 11% in 1973, figures which were worrying to the Turin company, for once the rot starts it tends to accelerate. They put the deterioration down to depleted sales of the long-in-the-tooth 124 series, introduced in 1966 and of which two million have been built in Italy alone. Fortunately they have managed to announce the 124’s replacement, the 131 Mirafiori, in the nick of rime.

The 131 slots in the Fiat range between the 128 and 132, is of very conventional construction, yet if it retains fairly boxy lines they are markedly more attractive than those of the slab-aided 124. Panicked by the fuel crisis, Fiat have left the familiar twin-cam engines out of the options offered, though they admitted to we British journalists when we were introduced to the 131 in Turin that the early prototypes had run in twin-cam form and that if the European economy sorted itself out this option may be made available later. For the moment the range consists of three basic versions: two-door and four-door saloons and a five-door estate, each of which will be offered with the option of a 1297 c.c. 65 b.h.p. DIN engine or a 1585 c.c. 75 b.h.p. DIN engine, both with pushrod operated valves. The engines are new, though based on the 132 block; the single camshafts in the crankcases are driven by toothed belts, and operate the parallel-inclined valves in the alloy cylinder heads via a new design of tappet and very short pushrods. The strokes are the same in both versions, the bore being 76 mm. in the case of the 1297 c.c. unit and 84 mm. in the case of the 1585 c.c. engine. Both have twin choke carburettors. A maximum speed of 93 m.p.h, is claimed for the 1300 and 99.4 for the 1600. Exceptional thermal efficiency from a patented design of combustion chamber is said to result in excellent economy on premium fuel.

The four-speed gearbox is the existing one but the five-speed box is of a new, improved design. A General Motors automatic gearbox is available on the 1600.

On the suspension and steering side the most noteworthy improvement is the incorporation of rack-and-pinion steering. An adjustable steering column is fitted to the Specials. Front suspension is by McPherson struts, coil springs, with very long suspension movement, and an anti-roll bar, a similar design to that of the 128. At the rear the live axle has inclined coil spring/damper units and is located by four longitudinal arms and a Panhard rod. Nine-inch front disc brakes and 9 in. drums are fitted, with servo assistance and a dual system.

Innovations on the car include a centralised electrical control box in the front passenger compartment, to which three separate looms simply pAug in. Underbody protection includes wax treatment inside the box sections and a covering of PVC.

Both versions we tried—a 1300 Standard and a 1600 Special—were roomy and comfortable. There is an extra 7.4 in. of length, the width is the same and the wheelbase has grown by 2.8 in., while there is an extra 3 in. of interior width. The through-flow ventilation proved excellent, as did the seats, particularly the reclining cloth-covered ones of the four-headlamp Special, which is better trimmed and better instrumented generally. The conventional shape has allowed for a very roomy boot, too.

Handling was very predictable and generally very good, though not exceptional, the ride was smooth and the brakes more than adequate tor the performance of these push rod models, though the twin-cam versions, when they come, might benefit from even more efficiency. The reduction in wind-noise compared with the 124s and 125s was particularly noticeable on the autostradas when even the 1300 four-speed version was stable, comfortable and relatively quiet when cruising flat-out.

If the performance of this new Fiat is unexceptional enough to require much comment, the styling really is very neat and attractive and the 131 should meet Fiat’s aims of a best-seller. We look forward to the extra liveliness of the twin-cam version, fuel crisis or not.

A 1500 c.c. Spitfire

Extra performance and economy is claimed from the new Spitfire 1500, which replaces the 1300 c.c. Spitfire Mk. IV. An extra 5 m.p.h. on top speed takes the Spitfire into the 100 m.p.h. bracket for the first time, yet an improvement of 7½% on fuel economy— to 47 m.p.g.—is claimed at a constant 50 m.p.h., though who is likely to be able, or want to, travel everywhere at a constant 50 m.p.h. we know not. Acceleration from 0-60 m.p.h. takes 11.3 sec. against the 1300 engined car’s 14.5 sec. and 5 seconds has been knocked off the 50-70 m.p.h. top-gear acceleration time. The all-synchromesh gearbox is of British Leyland’s new single-rail shift type and Laycock overdrive continues to be optional, adding a useful 2.6 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m. to the 18 m.p.h. of the non-overdrive car, which itself has a higher rear axle ratio. Apart from badges, the addition of door sill tread plates, an automatic boot light and hazard and seat-belt warning lights, the car otherwise remains unchanged. There is nothing new about the 1500 c.c. engine, which has been fitted to American specification Spitfires for the last couple of years. The same engine is now fitted to the MG Midget, though we note that only 65 b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m. is claimed for the MG installation compared with 71 b.h.p. at the same revs in the Spitfire.

Martini Back Brabham

Martini and Rossi, through the Martini Racing Organisation, are moving into Formula 1 for 1975 by sponsoring Bernie Ecclestone’s two-car Brabham team. Porsche’s Withdrawal from sports-car racing for the year provided Martini Racing with the opportunity to branch into Formula 1, which they last tried unsuccessfully with the disappointing Tecno. Martini Racing team manager David Yorke will keep a watchful eye on the team, who Will have Carlos Reutemann and Carlos Pace in the new Brabham BT 44Bs. These are Gordon Murray’s developments of the BT42/44 incorporating no less than 142 detail changes, including much lightening of the chassis to bring it close to the 537 kg. minimum permitted weight, front and rear suspension revisions and improved aerodynamics including a revised nose section, fairings for the rear-view mirrors and integral engine cover/air box/cockpit moulding. The BT44Bs will make their first appearance at the Argentine Grand Prix on January 12th with conventional Ford power, but at the Press conference announcing the Martini deal Bernie Ecclestone made no secret of the fact that Murray is working on a brand-new car to be powered by the Alfa-Romeo flat-12 engine. Although it is unlikely to replace the BT44B this season it should be ready for testing by the middle of the year

Ferodo Trophy to McLaren

The Ferotio Trophy for 1974 has been awarded to Bruce McLaren Racing Ltd. At a presentation at the Dorchester the Trophy was accepted on behalf of McLaren by Phil Kerr, Joint Managing Director, in the presence of many celebrities from the sport, including McLaren representative Johnny Rutherford, Denny Hulme, Mrs. Pat McLaren, Teddy Mayer and Tyler Alexander. In the citation, the independent panel of judges stated that McLaren had been awarded the Trophy as the team who “built the cars which won the Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship, the World Drivers’ Championship and the Indianapolis 500”. Films for Winter Evenings Of the many films which we have been able to see previews this Winter three of the best for Motor Club “natter and noggin” evenings come from Vauxhall. “Ventora for Victory” follows the design, building and early outings of the ill-fated DTV Ventora; “This One Was Fun” is an excellent pictorial record of the 1974 Avon Tour of Britain; and “The Enthusiasts” looks ‘at the people behind motoring sport—marshals, organisers, sponsors, spectators and competitors. Made for Vauxhall Motors by Formula One Films and directed bV John Mills, the films are available on free loan from the Vauxhall Film Library, 16 Paxton Place, London SE27 9SS.

Dawson Wins the Kleber Scholarship

This year’s Kleber Rally Scholarship has been awarded to Andy Dawson, the 27-yearold St. John’s Wood full-time rally driver who used to be assistant to Chrysler Competitions Manager Des O’Dell. Dawson has managed excellent results in Imps, Avengers, Mexicos and Clan Crusaders over a number of years and finished second overall in the Lindisfarne Rally with a works Escort. His win entitles him to the loan of a works-prepared Datsun Violet 1800 for a year, together with 200 Kleber rally tyres and necessary wheels, sufficient spares for the car for a season and entry fees paid in all agreed rallies.

“Speedshow ’75”

London’s 12th International Racing Car Show is being held at Olympia’s National Hall from January 1st to 11th and is open every day from 10 a.m. to 8.30 p.m., except Sunday when the doors open from 12 noon to 7 p.m.