Small-car topics

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Road-test impressions of the Fiat 600D — Notes on the new Renault R8 and Simca 1000

The Fiat 600D

Until the other day it had been a considerable time since I had driven one of the jolly little 4-cylinder Fiat baby cars, and I had no experience .of the 600D, in which the former rear-placed 633 c.c engine has been replaced by one with 2 mm. greater bore and 7.5 mm. longer stroke, to give a swept-volume of 767 c.c. As this new power unit gives 29 (net) b.h.p. at 4,800 r.p.m. while retaining the unobtrusive smooth-running of its predecessor, acceleration is usefully enhanced without bringing disadvantages in its train.

So this shapely little Fiat remains a truly compact 4-seater, ideal for parking and driving in the World’s congested cities, and very pleasant on longer runs.

Although the engine is in the rear boot, with coolant radiator beside it, oversteer on fast corners is not over-pronounced and, indeed, the initial steering tendency is understeer. This baby Fiat can, indeed, be flung through corners with happy abandon. Wavy surfaces, a cross-wind particularly, act as a reminder that rear-engined cars usually oversteer and a good deal of work is then necessary on the vice-free, fairly light steering, which is geared 3.5 turns, lock-to-lock. It does not kick back and has rather lackadaisical castor return action.

The Fiat hydraulic drum brakes are complementary to the desire one feels to drive the 600D briskly and there is a good central pull-up handbrake.

The suspension, independent all round, using a front transverse leaf-spring and wishbones, coil-springs for the i.r.s., is a good compromise, being comfortable over normal roads with no more up-and-down motion than most very small cars display, and very accommodating over freak going, while killing most of the roll on corners.

Much of the joy of driving the Fiat 600D stems from an excellent 4-speed gearbox controlled by a short central lever. The speedometer carries limit markings of 20, 28 and 44 m.p.h. in the gears but no harm seems to come from turning a blind eye to these, so that 56 m.p.h. in the 6.49-to-1 3rd gear is possible. In top the genuine maximum is 66 to 68 m.p.h.—this ratio is 4.37 to 1.

Road noise is lower than in a certain British minicar, perhaps due to the 5.20 x 12 Pirelli Extraflex tyres, although the suspension cloaks occasionally as bumps are encountered. The separate front seats are small but not uncomfortable, with room for two behind: three at a squeeze, on a seat the back of which folds down to act as a luggage platform. This is a very small car, but a deep well behind the back seat augments the rather limited luggage space in the front boot, which is restricted by the 5.7-gallon petrol tank and spare wheel, the doors have pockets, and there is a good under-facia shelf, somewhat impeded by demister hoses and the front boot-lid release lever, but still accommodating. There is crash padding along this and the lower edge of the facia.

Instrumentation consists of a small hooded 80-m.p.h. speedometer with total no-decimal mileage recorder, flanked by water temperature warning light and a fuel gauge with low-supply warning light, and having ignition and oil-pressure indicator lamps incorporated. To its right are more elaborate indicator-lamps for lights on, full-beam and direction indicators, these being rotatable to dim their messages at night. To put the lamps on, a separate toggle switch and the ignition-key have to be operated, the latter being turned to the right after switching off the engine (which it is all too easy to forget, leaving the car lightless), after which headlamps dim and dim beam is selected by moving downwards a l.h. steering-column stalk; above this a shorter stalk controls the self-cancelling winkers (this one is rather too short, so one is apt to operate it through the wheel).

The ignition key now starts the engine but the choke-cum-hand throttle remains a convenient little lift-up lever on the prop.-shaft tunnel. The doors have quarter-lights and big windows open fully by 5 & 1/3rd turns of light winder-handle. The front-wheel arches cause slight offsetting of the pedals, there is considerable reflection of the plated control stalks in the screen, and the rear-view mirror gives a seriously restricted view. The clutch foot has to be parked under the pedal.

The Fiat 600D is well finished, has really substantial bumpers, the engine is very accessible, its rear compartment being automatically lit when the lid is raised, there is courtesy interior lighting; twin vizors, panel lighting with its own toggle switch, a neat facia ash-tray and a good heater, which in future will have facia controls. The horn push, in the steering-wheel hub, sounds a surprisingly un-Italian horn note, The front-seat squabs will be of reclining type on future cars, and the seats, though small, are very comfortable. The quiet wipers are self-cancelling and wired independently of the ignition circuit; the washers of press-the-rubber-knob type. Before the fuel warning light came on 194 miles were covered, after which over a gallon remained. Petrol consumption averaged 44 m.p.g. driving hard, including flat-out cruising down M1. The cheapest fuel is entirely acceptable, as the compression-ratio is 7.5 to 1, which is the case with very few modern cars, so the 600D is really economical. It used no oil in a mileage of over 800 and gave not a moment’s trouble.

I have always found the small Fiats the greatest fun and the better pick-up of the 600D is well worth having. Its best feature is an effortless, economical speedometer cruising speed of 65 (70 m.p.h. on M1) with a considerable degree of refinement for such a small car. It must, however, be the sole surviving car with rear-hinged doors. In spite of the imposition of Import Duty the price here is £562 0s. 3d. inclusive of purchase tax, or £611 10s 3d.. in convertible form. Yes, a thoroughly jolly and useful little car, its which I somehow feel sun-tanned and Vino-inspired! The smallest of the 4-cylinder Fiats will continue to make light of the traffic in most cities of the World for many years to come. The test-car even contrived to tow home my “new” 1949 VW without a trace of anxiety. The Fiat 600D remains one of the best of the very small cars. Fiat (England) Ltd., Water Road, Wembley, Middlesex, will be glad to demonstrate.—W.B.

The new Renault R8

During May the great Regie Renault concern was busy flying parties of journalists to Madrid so that they could see and try this new model, which is to supplement the Dauphine, in the seclusion of Spain, where curious eyes are less frequently encountered and where there is some good testing terrain. Accordingly, I enplaned in a Comet 4B and went to see what was afoot.

Although the Renault Dauphine is a most attractive “850” which has very nice lines and is a small car that has been improved materially in detail in recent times, clearly Renault now consider that it should be supplemented by something of rather greater size and performance.

What they have done is to use the 4-cylinder 5-bearing push-rod-o.h.v. 956-c.c. engine as introduced at Geneva for the revised Floride, in a new small 4-door saloon, using the new radiator location at the back of the engine boot and introducing Lockheed 10.2 in. disc brakes all round, as on the Floride.

The engine of the new R8 has a light alloy head with wedge-shape combustion chambers, and gives 48 (S.A.E.) b.h.p. at 5,200 r.p.m., runs up to 5,700 r.p.m. and develops 55.3 lb./ft. torque at 2,500 r.p.m. It features a sealed coolant system, a Solex or Zenith carburetter, and 12-volt electrics. The compression-ratio is 8.5 to 1, compared to 9.5 to 1, giving 51 b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m. of the Floride Speciale.

The drive passes through a clutch, in a separate casing between engine and gearbox, that has a diaphragm spring which does duty in lieu of fingers and coil-springs. The gearbox has ratios of 16.1, 9.17, 6.65 and 4.5 to 1, with synchromesh on the three upper ratios. Rack-and-pinion steering is retained and naturally there is all-round independent suspension by coil-springs. The tyres, French Dunlops on the car tested, are 145 x 380. The R8 has a wheelbase of 7 ft. 51 in., a track of (front) 4 ft. 1.25 in., (rear) 4 ft. 0 in. Lubrication is confined to eight grease points needing attention when the engine oil is changed at 3,000 miles and attention to hub bearings at 12,000 miles.

The photographs show the rather unusual appearance of this latest French rear-engined small car, which is of Corvair-style with a shallow vee-ed bonnet top to simulate front wings. The front boot takes plenty of luggage, the cloth-upholstered seats (leathercloth on the British version) are comfortable and the performance interesting. The roof has external stiffening ribs.

Braking is, of course, fade-tree and quite superb, and I can report that road-holding and cornering have been vastly improved. Bends can be negotiated really rapidly without the dreaded oversteer intruding and the RS corners very level. A skilful driver can evoke over- or under-steer as required but the generally high standard of stability has been achieved apparently by stiffening the suspension, which gives a rather lively ride and results in the inner wheel lifting on corners in spite of i.r.s. The body is prone to rattles, but visibility is excellent.

Unfortunately Renault still find it difficult to link up a gear-lever effectively with a gearbox located at the rear of the car and the considerable movements, particularly into 3rd gear, and vague selection by the R8’s rigid central lever, were criticised freely by everyone present. Moreover, this lever has a very oddly-shaped knob, seemingly planned to facilitate writing the gear locations on it, or to suit a stylist’s ambitions, rather than for comfort of grasp. Steering-column stalks, l.h. for lamps, r.h. for flashers, are provided, there is conscientious crash-padding, there are fresh-air inlets at each end of the matt-plastic facia, and a 150-k.p.h. speedometer, neat square indicator windows for water temperature, oil pressure, ignition and total mileage, a fuel gauge, and two open cubby-holes, in one of which lives the release for the front boot-lid.

The Renault R8 cruised at 80 m.p.h. and would run up to over 90 m.p.h. downhill but I had no chance to check its speedometer. There was a bad carburation flat-spot on “my” car which, coupled with fast driving, gave a m.p.g. figure of 26.5 for 162 miles after correction for odometer error. The average consumption amongst the journalists was 35 m.p.g. over a give-and-take circuit of Spanish roads that ascended to the snow-line in the mountains. The steering was geared 3 & 3 quarter turns, lock-to-lock.

General opinion is that this is quite the best-handling and quietest Renault yet to emerge from Billancourt; I look forward to doing a full road-test of the R8 on British roads in the near future.— W.B.

The Simca 100 in Britain

At Woburn Abbey on May 28th, after patiently sitting through speeches by Mon. H. T. Pigozzi, President of Simca, and a representative of the French Embassy, pre-lunch drinks, a buffet lunch, and high-pressure publicity films, I was at last able to drive a Simca 1000 for some 20 miles of a so-called closed circuit in Woburn Park. As the hazards were many, from mobile police and cars coming in the opposite direction, to straying deer and„ finally, as the last straw, a tatty Standard Vanguard stationary in the road (the excited police who waved me to a standstill explaining this away by saying it belonged to the Duke’s Steward—as though this would make it softer to hit!), I couldn’t get in much serious driving. Incidentally, if the Duke of Bedford is prepared to hire his park to the Motor Industry, no doubt at a substantial profit, for such test days, he should take steps to ensure that his staff do not indulge in the exceedingly dangerous practice of driving the reverse way of the closed circuit.

The Simca Mille seems a lively little car, with good all-round visibility, anti-dazzle matt facia, no ignition-key to lose, light steering and brakes, and a speedometer maximum in 3rd gear of 65 m.p.h. The all-synchromesh gears are changed by a good central floor lever. Initial understeer quickly changes to rather vicious breakaway of the rear-end. Further than that I cannot go, until I have conducted a proper road-test, which I hope will not be long delayed.

Simca are making a big bid to sell their 5-bearing 944-c.c. rear-engined 1000 in this country. Previously handled, when they were front-engined, rear-drive cars, by the Chrysler Corporation, Simca have now set up their own organisation here—Simca Motors (G.B.) Ltd., Oxgate Lane, London, N.W.2.

On the occasion of this preview some 200 Simea 1000s were at Woburn, being collected by dealers, so the new model is well and truly launched in this country. While they were briefed in Simca sales technique their ladies attended a fashion show.

These Corvair-style, compact 4-seater, 4-door saloons are available in ivory, pale blue, light grey, black or red, and the price here, inclusive of purchase tax, is £758.—W. B.

Wiscombe Park

The first-ever championship-calibre Hill-Climb on the 1,000-yd. Wiscombe Park course took place on May 20th. In both class and Championship categories a large entry had been received, including some excellent vintage models and the three E.R.A.s of Peter Waller (R9B), Gordon Chapman (R2A) and Martin Morris. (R11B). Some “real” cars contested vintage and p.v.t. class, with notable entries from Alan Southon (Becke Powerplus), Majors Chichester and Lambton (Alta), Doc. Taylor (Caesar Special), John Goddard (2.2-litre supercharged Bugatti), D. R. Berridge (KG. NE Magnette, ex-T.T. car), Harry Rose (Bentley) and F. B. Bruce-White (Allt’cock). Adding sound and colour to the racing-car class was Ian Sievwright’s Ferrari Tipo 625, the car driven to victory by Maurice Trintignant in the 1955 Monaco G.P.

During the class runs Tony Marsh with his 2.5-litre B.R.M.-engined “Marsh” smashed his own course record (set up at the 750 M.C. Meeting last year), in two runs of 45.52 and 45.44 sec. For the Championship runs the weather deteriorated from quite sunny to drizzling rain and, whilst Marsh had been happy on semi-worn tyres and only one gear (the engine revving to over 8,000 r.p.m.), Ray Fielding’s 2.5-litre B.R.M. (ex-Dan Gurney Team car), using several cogs, was able to cope far better with the very wet surface.

Championship placings after two runs each were as follows : 1st : R. Fielding (B.R.M.), 51.60 sec.; 2nd : J. Randles (Cooper-Monaco 2-litre), 52.63 sec.; 3rd : A. Owen (Cooper-Climax 2.5-litre 53.01 sec.; 4th : T. Marsh (Marsh-B.R.M.), 53.52 sec.; 5th : R. Phillips.(Fairley-Climax 1.5-litre supercharged), 54.97 sec.; 6th : I. McLaughlin (Cooper-J.A.P. 1,100-c.c.), 55.30 sec. Fielding takes the lead in the Championship with a total of 19 points, whilst Marsh has 18, Owen 15, Phillips 14, and I. McLaughlin 11. Details of the Shelsley Walsh Championship event appear elsewhere in this issue.—E. W.